City of Tonawanda Holds Brief June 16 Ceremony, Local Civil Rights Group Responds

CITY OF TONAWANDA, NY (WIVB) – Many local governments were closed Monday in observance of June 19, which has been a federal holiday for a year now. But many cities still do not officially recognize the commemoration of the end of slavery.

And, there was a change of course in a local town.

The city of Tonawanda had originally not planned to celebrate June 19, even though it had done so a year ago. Under a previous administration, the city government signed a memorandum of understanding with labor unions to officially recognize the holiday.

The city’s initial decision changed after News 4 reported a lack of acknowledgment and criticism from community leaders such as Erie County Democratic Committee Chairman Jeremy Zellner, who is a city resident. from Tonawanda.

The city of Tonawanda held a brief ceremony to celebrate June 19 on Monday. Tonawanda City Mayor John White, a Republican,’s explanation of why the city hasn’t done more this year, such as closing government offices, has to do with union contracts that won’t not list Juneteenth as a recognized holiday.

“I want to sit down with the right bands and make it happen the right way, I just don’t want to make it a day, ‘oh you made it’, a lot of people think that day is a day off like an extended vacation which is not what it’s about,” White said.

Tonawanda City workers were able to take a personal day Monday to observe the holiday.

The Buffalo NAACP appreciates the last-minute change.

“It’s a start, but more needs to be said, more needs to be done, more education needs to be given to communities,” said Rev. Mark Blue, president of the NAACP.

This continuing education on June 19 could be found Monday at the Buffalo Museum of Science with storytime readings on June 19. Buffalo, Erie County and the City of Niagara Falls are just a few local municipalities that recognize Juneteenth.

But many other communities have been slow to officially recognize the end of slavery. For example, government offices in the city and village of Lancaster, Cheektowaga and West Seneca were open Monday, citing union contracts.

“We have to recognize it every year, by every culture, by every city, by every state that we are free,” Blue said, “This is an opportunity for us to celebrate the freedom that has been granted to us because of the injustices because of slavery because of the color of our skin.

He makes the comparison between Independence Day and Juneteenth. Both holidays celebrate freedom.

But, there is still a lot of work to be done to fully recognize Juneteenth locally and across the country.

Jeff Preval is an award-winning presenter and journalist who joined the News 4 team in December 2021. See more of his work here.

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