No reparations, but Juneteenth will become city holiday in Ithaca

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St. James AME Zion Church on Ithaca's historically Black Southside neighborhood, was an important stop on the Underground Railroad. (Megan Zerez/WSKG)

The Ithaca Common Council voted unanimously last week to adopt June 19 — or Juneteenth — as a city holiday. Juneteenth commemorates the day in 1865 when formerly enslaved people in Texas learned of their emancipation. 

The holiday, long celebrated by Black Americans, was declared a federal holiday last year. Now Ithaca’s city employees will also get the day off.

Common Council member Phoebe Brown, who is Black, said she was grateful the city will recognize the holiday going forward.

Brown also expressed hope the Common Council would reconsider a failed amendment to the city’s 2023 budget that would set aside $1 million in direct payment to Black Ithacans as reparations for the enslavement of Africans and African Americans.

That amendment overwhelmingly failed during the Common Council’s final budget negotiation meeting on Oct. 27. Brown co-authored the amendment with fellow alderperson and Solidarity Slate member Jorge Defendini. The two were the only “yes” votes on the amendment.