AUGUSTA – In recognition of Juneteenth, Assistant House Majority Leader Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, has released the following statement:
“Juneteenth is an American holiday, an Independence Day. It is not only a day to celebrate those who fought for freedom and our collective liberation, it is a day to confront our nation’s true history. Just a week before President Biden made Juneteenth a federal holiday, a bill I proudly sponsored to establish Juneteenth as a paid state holiday was signed into law. When I submitted that legislation, I felt the weight of my ancestors and all those who came before me asking to be valued and seen as human beings. I knew it to be part of our quest for self-determination and human rights. Forty-eight years ago, my father, the Honorable Gerald E. Talbot, put in a bill to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a state holiday, and reintroduced that legislation three consecutive times, each term he was in office. Maine eventually passed the bill four years before it became a federal holiday in 1983. I am proud that, with Juneteenth, Maine was once again able to lead in recognizing such important history.”
Juneteenth memorializes June 19, 1865, the date when Union Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas and announced the freedom of all enslaved people. Juneteenth was celebrated as early as the next year, 1866. Granger’s announcement in 1865 came a full two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Despite President Lincoln’s executive action, slavery did not end right away and liberation occurred with the forward movement of the Union Army. The Juneteenth holiday celebrates all people’s emancipation from slavery in the United States.
In addition to her bill establishing Juneteenth as a paid state holiday, Talbot Ross has sponsored successful legislation to create Maine’s Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous and Maine Tribal Populations, which she now chairs. In that role, she has led efforts to fundamentally shift the way lawmakers evaluate public policy by incorporating analysis on the impact of generational racial disparities and to address systemic racism. Talbot Ross’ bill to require the Maine State Legislature to evaluate the racial impact of pending legislation was signed into law earlier this year. This week, Talbot Ross’ bill to preserve fair housing in Maine became law, strengthening protections against housing discrimination. On Wednesday, Talbot Ross’ bill requiring Maine schools to teach African American studies was passed into law.
“Making Juneteenth a state holiday is just one part of a movement happening here in Maine,” added Talbot Ross. “My colleagues in the Maine House have passed bills this session to advance climate justice, reduce incarceration, hold police accountable, expand housing opportunities, address health disparities and so much more. Racial justice must be pursued in every facet of public policy, and we have lots of work left ahead of us.”
Talbot Ross is in her third term in the Maine House, representing part of Portland, and serves as assistant House majority leader. A ninth-generation Mainer and longtime public servant, Talbot Ross has dedicated her career to social justice. Prior to her time in the Legislature, she led the NAACP in Maine and founded several nonprofit organizations, including Maine Black Community Development, Inc., Maine Freedom Trails, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Fellows. She chaired the Maine State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights for several years as well as the African American Collection of Maine housed at the University of Southern Maine.