Today, President Joseph R. Biden signed into law a resolution establishing June 19 as Juneteenth National Independence Day, a US holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.
The bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, which has gained momentum since the murder of George Floyd last year, sailed through Congress.
As we celebrate this milestone, I want to take a moment to reflect on the profound impact the African American experience has had on our nation, the Hudson Valley, and the College. A moving exhibition at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center serves as a poignant reminder of our region’s history that is often overlooked in the dominant narrative. The beautiful Hudson Valley in which we live was farmed and cared for by enslaved African Americans who lived on this land in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The artwork on view pays tribute to people torn from their families and sold into slavery in a foreign land and serves to remind us that Black families not only worked the land but were owners of farmland nearby. The exhibit seeks to address the historical erasure of African American contributions to art. The same erasure has been part of our history, our culture, and our education.
The signing of the bill declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday is a sign of progress, even as so much work remains to be done. This day also reminds us of the many contributions by African Americans to the life of the College. Some of these are commemorated by the Buildings and Belonging project, and the naming of the Jeh Vincent Johnson ALANA Center, which begin to offer a fuller account of how Black students, alumni, faculty, and other employees have shaped Vassar for more than a century.
As the nation celebrates Juneteenth, let us be mindful at Vassar of all we can do to promote equity and continue to honor the influence that African Americans have had and continue to have on the very fabric of this country and our community.
Elizabeth H. Bradley, President
Poughkeepsie, NY 12604