After signing Connecticut’s June 16 holiday law into law last month, Governor Lamont traveled to New London last Friday for a more solemn signing of the law along with a replica of the Amistad ship that was visiting the city.
This allowed the ceremony to evoke not only the end of slavery in Texas in 1865, as Juneteenth does, but also the slave rebellion that took place aboard the ship in 1839, sparking a legal controversy that dealt a blow to freedom , a controversy in which Connecticut people played a heroic role.
But basically, the availability of the Amistad to sign the June 16 law back into law was just a happy distraction for many of the revelers, including state and local officials. That’s because most Connecticut residents who are descendants of slaves kidnapped from Africa don’t live in or near New London, but in or near Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport, which is frightening ironic locations for the ceremony.
For within hours on both sides of the ceremony The usual fatal shootings erupted in Hartford and Bridgeport, and in New Haven, a 16-year-old boy was injured in a shooting from a passing car but survived.
Also in New Haven, meanwhile, the school system held a conference on teaching reading, partly in response to the collapse in student reading achievement in the city, where most students had been unable to read at grade level for years.
Chronic student absenteeism and lack of education are big parts of this problem, plaguing schools not only in New Haven but also in Hartford and Bridgeport.
New Haven school officials had invited the press to attend the conference, but after it began they barred the correspondent for the New Haven Independent lest possible disagreements between teachers and administrators about teaching methods be disclosed.
Yet they still call it public education.
Back at the ceremony in New London, Lt. gov. Susan Bysiewicz stated, “Today we are here to recognize the trauma of our African American community and to start small righting the wrongs of our past.”
beginning to right the wrongs of our past?
From the 13th Amendment and the Freedmen’s Bureau at the end of the Civil War, to the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts and “War on Poverty” of recent decades, the country has been trying, at spectacular cost, to right the wrongs of the past long before anyone thought make 16 June an official holiday in addition to Martin Luther King Day.
Of course, great strides were made in that century and a half, but given Connecticut’s continuing racial disparities — in educational attainment, housing, integration, crime, poverty, and public health — the general conditions in the places where most of the state’s descendants lived Slave life appears to have deteriorated in important respects in recent years, despite the vast sums of money expended in the name of improvement.
This makes the official June 16th a public holiday mostly look like a strategic distraction from the government’s failure and chronic refusal to examine and address it.
After all, what will June 16 bring about with all these differences?
What will June 16 achieve apart from what will likely be another paid day off for government employees themselves and another day for city dwellers to endure reduced or more expensive public services?
What will come of the additional righteous demeanor of elected officials who, under the guise of June 16, can continue to overlook these inequalities and flaws and dodge the underlying causes in government policies that, while conveniently preoccupying so many politically connected people, are their nominal not reach? Goals?
In New London, Governor Lamont said Some people “want to airbrush our history.” This was a misleading reference to those who object, not to honest history teaching and the long struggle to democratize society, but to educators and curricula that portray the United States as a hopelessly racist country, rather than striving to see how imperfect however it may be, to live up to its founding principles.
The governor’s trip to New London for the second signing of the June 16 holiday bill was primarily to embellish Connecticut’s airbrush currently. More holidays may make politicians feel good, but they won’t change anything.
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer.