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For This Tompkins County Leader, Juneteenth Represents A New Abolition Movement

TOMPKINS COUNTY, NY (WSKG) - Juneteenth is today.

It marks the day in 1865 when enslaved people in Texas learned they were free. For them, liberation came two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. For generations it has been a day of celebration in African-American communities.

Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, who serves on the Tompkins County Legislature, is also the only person of color to chair a county legislature in the Southern Tier. 

McBean-Clairborne first learned of Juneteenth when she moved to the United States from Guyana in her twenties. She eventually helped revive the Juneteenth celebration in Ithaca’s Southside.

This year, the day has taken on a new importance for her. In the wake of recent killings of black people by police and vigilantes, and protests, she says the day marks the beginning of a new abolition movement.

“Abolishing, not slavery, and not Emancipation from slavery, when we had the start of Juneteenth, but Emancipation from oppression and the abolishing of hate and racism,” she said.

McBean-Clairborne said it’s a movement that blacks and whites should work in together.

“That’s the movement we have to have now,” she said. “Our white accomplices understand abolition. They worked with us on abolition and we need them to get back into that mindset. And so for me, Juneteenth this year is focused heavily on exactly that.”

The celebration she helped to revive years ago has continued. It is organized every year by the Southside Community Center. This year the Center is observing the holiday online during the entire month of June. Each day features a different African American of importance in the history and culture of the United States.