LEWISTON — The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt Juneteenth as a legal holiday for city government.

The move comes after the holiday, celebrated June 19, was recognized as a federal and Maine state holiday earlier this year.

The holiday celebrates the end of slavery by marking the day enslaved people in Texas learned they were free, on June 19, 1865, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

According to a city memo, Lewiston sought to recognize the holiday as part of its “ongoing efforts” of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Melissa Hue, director of diversity, equity and inclusion, told city officials Tuesday that Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the U.S.

While the Emancipation Proclamation became law in January 1863, the Civil War was still raging, and it could not be enforced in places still under Confederate control.


“It took over two years for an estimated 250,000 Texan slaves to learn that the government had secured their freedom,” Hue said in the memo. “Juneteenth marks the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to take control of the state ensuring that all enslaved people be freed. It honors the end of slavery and remains a powerful reminder of how endurance, perseverance, courage and resistance have a direct impact on change in the world.”

Hue also said that, “As we acknowledge this day, I encourage you to take time to reflect, learn and gain a better understanding of our past. To honor the struggles of Black Americans let’s take a minute to celebrate how far we’ve come so we can prepare for how far we have to go.”

When asked Wednesday, Hue said she didn’t know how many Maine municipalities had so far adopted Juneteenth as a holiday.

“Hopefully, this just encourages other cities to take a look at their own personnel policies,” she said.

During the meeting Tuesday, officials applauded the move, and called attention to Hue’s new role in Lewiston. Hue was hired in August, becoming the city’s first diversity, equity and inclusion director in the Human Resources department after the position was recommended by a previous DEI committee.

Councilor Alicia Rea said having a staff member “focused on this work and education is just so beneficial to this city.”

Councilor Caleb Roebuck said he only learned about Juneteenth about five years ago, which shows the importance of the education surrounding important commemorations like Juneteenth.

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