Events across Connecticut Friday marked the commemoration of Juneteenth, the day in 1865 when news of the end of the Civil War reached Texas, marking the true end of chattel slavery in the U.S. -- two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
This year's celebrations had an added impetus from the ongoing protests against police brutality in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Chants of “Black lives matter” could be heard from the steps of the state Capitol to the police department in Hartford, as some 3,000 people participated in a March for Black Justice.
The march was put together by eight young black adults from Connecticut -- a group called Black America Undivided.
One of their aims is to amplify the voices of Black women and Black members of the LGBTQ+ community.
“A lot of times women are left out of the conversation and this group was formed mostly by Black women, Black queer people, Black everything,” said Olivia Mitchell, 20, of Windsor. “We represent all groups of Black people and we want Black people and America as a whole to come together to fight these issues that oppress all of us.”
Mitchell is driven to end racism in health care. Before the march, she spoke to the crowd gathered near the steps of the state Capitol, breaking down briefly in the middle of her speech as she described health disparities for pregnant women. Mitchell told the crowd Black women like herself are 243% more likely to die from complications arising from childbirth.
“There are medical students who don’t believe Black people feel pain the same way. It starts in the education system with every group -- teaching kids real Black history in schools, teaching our future doctors that Black people feel pain the same way white people do.”
Madison Johnson, 19, of Middletown said she felt what Mitchell was saying in that moment, so much so that she too had to hold back tears.
“As a Black woman, I think that people need to see our emotion because we’re just tired of it,” said Johnson, who’s also a member of Black America Undivided.
Johnson wants this movement to put an end to poverty in Black communities.
“I’m from a low-income Black family, so this hits really hard for me, and I’ve seen the effect of poverty on my own family and my own people,” Johnson said.
Attendees met in Bushnell Park. They then walked to the state Capitol building to hear speakers talk about the need for social reform.
A list of demands was read by Marcus Washburn, 21, of Hartford. Black America Undivided is also calling for the defunding of police departments, for false reporting to be considered a hate crime and for the establishment of a Black youth council in Hartford.
Temperatures reached into the 80s Friday, but the heat didn’t slow down a group of activists and community leaders in Bridgeport as they held up “Black Lives Matter” signs and kept up a steady chant while they made a 1.5-mile march from Central High School to the Fairfield County Courthouse.
“Today we are marching in peace, but also we’re here because we want change, and we have said enough is enough,” Bobbi Brown, a community leader, said into a megaphone.
The march, organized by activist group Enough Been Enough, led about 100 people through residential streets and temporarily stopped traffic on main roads as activists protested police brutality and systemic racism.
“There’s some people who really don’t know about Juneteenth, so it was a real educational moment,” said Timia Graham, vice president of Enough Been Enough.
Graham said even though that kind of slavery may not exist today, Black people are still being killed and are dying from racist acts of violence.
“My grandfather, who is 80 years old, who witnessed so many different things in his life, he’s been called the N-word -- he lived that life, and he told me about it and I understood his message was to me growing up was that I have a platform now, I’m young, I can use my voice, we can use our voices,” she said.
As marchers made their way through town, people waved from their homes, and kids ran outside to watch the group go by. Other supporters honked their horns, rolled down their windows to chant with protesters, and stopped on the sidewalks to take video and pictures.
When protesters made it to the courthouse, they lay down on the ground for 8 minutes, 46 seconds -- the same amount of time that George Floyd was pinned to the ground by the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer as he died during an attempted arrest.
“Black people have had pressure in their lives all of their lives. It’s nothing new,” said activist Rosie Jones-Clarke. “We’ve been bearing the weight of somebody else’s oppression and suppression all of our lives, but today it’s time to say, ‘Get your knee off my neck.’”
As elections come around, Jones-Clarke stressed to protesters that continuing the movement of anti-racism, supporting the young generations speaking out against injustice, and voting in elections could make a difference.
Graham said the work to eliminate racial injustice was far from over.
“We just want people to know enough has been enough,” she said.