Blanding Watson, president, NAACP Lancaster, reads a statement about Juneteenth during a Lancaster County commissioners meeting on Wednesday, June 16, 2021. In the background are Joshua Hunter, program director, Crispus Attucks Community Center; and Vanessa Philbert, CEO, Community Action Partnership of Lancaster County, Crispus Attucks' parent organization. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)
Blanding Watson, president, NAACP Lancaster, reads a statement about Juneteenth during a Lancaster County commissioners meeting on Wednesday, June 16, 2021. In the background are Joshua Hunter, program director, Crispus Attucks Community Center; and Vanessa Philbert, CEO, Community Action Partnership of Lancaster County, Crispus Attucks' parent organization. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

Lancaster County's Juneteenth proclamation. Click to enlarge. (Source: co.lancaster.pa.us)

Lancaster County on Wednesday recognized Juneteenth officially for the first time in its history.

A proclamation signed by the three county commissioners affirms the celebration of June 19, 2021, as Juneteenth. The document invites all county residents "to reflect upon the spirit of the day, embrace the beauty in diversity, and pledge to honor the dignity, culture, and achievement of African Americans in every sphere of life."

Commissioner Craig Lehman said he is grateful to the nonprofit Community Action Partnership of Lancaster County for asking the county to issue the proclamation.

Lehman acknowledged Crispus Attucks Community Center and its former executive director, Cheryl Holland-Jones, for raising awareness of Juneteenth locally through the annual "Juneteenth/Men Who Cook" celebration, an event launched in 2008. (Last held in 2019, it was canceled in 2020 and again this year due to ongoing concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.)

Lancaster County commissioners and local nonprofit leaders show off the county's first-ever Juneteenth proclamation at the County Government Center on Wednesday, June 16, 2021. From left: Commissioner Craig Lehman; Jaime Arroyo, chief impact officer, Community Action Partnership of Lancaster County (CAP); Joshua Hunter, program director, Crispus Attucks Community Center; Vanessa Philbert, CEO, CAP; Blanding Watson, president, NAACP Lancaster; Jasmyne King, director, YWCA Lancaster Center for Racial and Gender Equity; Commissioner Josh Parsons. Commissioner Ray D'Agostino was on vacation. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)
Lancaster County commissioners and local nonprofit leaders show off the county's first-ever Juneteenth proclamation at the County Government Center on Wednesday, June 16, 2021. From left: Commissioner Craig Lehman; Jaime Arroyo, chief impact officer, Community Action Partnership of Lancaster County (CAP); Joshua Hunter, program director, Crispus Attucks Community Center; Vanessa Philbert, CEO, CAP; Blanding Watson, president, NAACP Lancaster; Jasmyne King, director, YWCA Lancaster Center for Racial and Gender Equity; Commissioner Josh Parsons. Commissioner Ray D'Agostino was on vacation. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, and issued an order affirming that all former enslaved people were free.

The holiday's recognition has grown dramatically in the past few years. Today, 47 states and Washington, D.C., recognize it in some form. On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate passed a bill to make it a national holiday.

"Always happy to celebrate freedom," said Commissioner Josh Parsons. He noted Lancaster County's history of anti-slavery activism and its role in the Underground Railroad, aspects of county history that he had ensured were added to the proclamation.

Blanding Watson, president of NAACP Lancaster, said his organization supports making Juneteenth a county holiday, an idea broached by Lehman. Jaime Arroyo, chief impact officer at CAP, endorsed making it a holiday as well.

"We must remember the impact of race-based chattel slavery on our history," Watson said in a prepared statement. Many current social issues can be traced to its legacy, he said.

"We must face the history, and our county and our nation must be transformed by it."

Tim Stuhldreher