NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP >> The Board of Supervisors at its June 9 meeting voted 5 to 0 to pass a resolution designating June 19th as Juneteenth Freedom Day in the township.
Supervisor David Oxley brought the idea to the floor as a way of sharing African-American history and culture with the community while promoting a broader understanding of slavery in America.
“This is important to me not just because I’m African American, but because it’s history,” said Oxley. “It’s important that we learn what happened in the past so that we can make sure that we understand each other. It’s quite obvious that with what happened (the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota a year ago), there are a lot of conversations that need to happen. This is a great way to start.”
Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day and Freedom Day, commemorates the day when the last enslaved African-Americans in the United States were informed that they were free.
It was on June 19, 1865, that news of emancipation reached Galveston, Texas. Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, along with more than 1,800 federal troops, arrived to take control of the state, nearly two months after the end of the Civil War, confirming the freedom of the last remaining slaves in the deepest parts of the South.
Two and a half years earlier, President Abraham Lincoln on Jan. 1, 1863 signed the Emancipation Proclamation, an executive order declaring that “all persons held as slaves” would be free.
Two years later on Jan. 31, 1865 the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution abolishing slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime, was passed by Congress and ratified by the required 27 of the then 36 states on December 6, 1865, and proclaimed on Dec. 18.
The first Juneteenth celebrations were held in Texas to 1866.
“I learned about Juneteenth as a little boy, but not in school - at a summer camp,” said Oxley. “It was never taught in school and as 2020 unfolded and Black Lives Matter emerged, Juneteenth was publicized and a lot of people I know had never heard of Juneteenth.
“So this is an opportunity to share and make people more aware of history,” said Oxley of the resolution. “As it has been made a state holiday, I believe it should be honored here in Newtown Township as well.”
In putting the motion on the table, Oxley said, “This isn’t about limelight. This isn’t about who can get the most applause. This is about doing the right thing for many people. Juneteenth is important to a minority of folks here in the township and it can be important to a majority over time.”
At the invitation of Chairman Phil Calabro, Oxley read the resolution into the public record, noting the history of Juneteenth, which is recognized as the oldest commemoration of African-American economic liberation in the United States.
“Through our systems of oppression such as sharecropping, Jim Crow, red lining and mass incarceration true equality has yet to be realized for African Americans,” said Oxley reading from the resolution.
“Today,” he continued, “African Americans face inequities in our judicial system, medical system, employment and housing as the lingering effects of enslavement and racism.”
The resolution concludes by recognizing the historical significance of Juneteenth and expressing the township’s support for the continued nationwide celebration, “to provide an opportunity to learn more about the past and to better understand the experiences of the African American community that have shaped the United States and to rededicate ourselves to working for freedom and equality for all.”
In other news, Fire Chief Glenn Forsyth announced at an earlier meeting that the Newtown Beerfest will be returning this year to the Stocking Works in Newtown Borough.
The event, the biggest fundraiser of the year for the firefighters, is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, September 18 from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m.
The clock on the Newtown Beerfest website is already counting down the days, hours, minutes and seconds to the first tap, although tickets for the event are not yet available.
Forsyth also announced the scheduled early July arrival of the department’s new rescue pumper, which will replace the association’s aging 2001 truck (Engine 45).
“This is a truck that will serve Newtown for easily 10 to 20 years,” Newtown Fire Association President Warren Dallas told the board of supervisors last fall, noting that the 2001 truck has been serving Newtown for the past 19 years. “I fully expect the Newtown Emergency Services to get some amount of service out of this truck as well.”
The volunteer NFA is purchasing the $716,000 Pierce truck with $500,000 in cash and by taking out a 15 year loan for $200,000.
Planning for the new truck began more than year ago with the formation of a truck committee. Since then, they have conducted an extensive review of truck options, looked at 15 to 20 trucks and drove a bunch of them “all to try and get a sense of what is the right answer is for Newtown,” said Dallas.
Dallas noted that the committee included Newtown Township Emergency Services career personnel. “We thank them for all the support they provided and all the details they helped us piece together,” he said.
The company voted at its July 2020 meeting to proceed with the purchase.
“After the purchase of this truck, at least in my opinion, I don’t see us needing another truck in Newtown for five to 10 years,” said Dallas.
The plan is to sell Engine 45, said Dallas. “We will keep the current rescue pumper until we take delivery of the new truck. We’ll put it up for sale ahead of time with the contingency that it will be available upon receipt and when training is complete on the new apparatus.”
In other action, the supervisors voted to hire BCS Facilities Group on a month to month basis to clean the restrooms at the township’s four public parks. They will be paid $1,213 a month to maintain the restrooms, including cleaning and stocking them twice a week.
The township has typically relied on hired part-time summer help to do the work. This year, it’s been a challenge to find workers to fill the needs of the township, explained manager Micah Lewis.
Lewis said they have hired two part-timers with two additional hires pending. Those new hires will be in the parks mowing grass, he said.
“We typically hire about 10 a season so we are deficient by six,” he said. “If we get to six, we could probably make it work.”
When asked by supervisor Kyle Davis about the cost difference, Lewis said “by the time you add in the cost of supplies that they will be supplying it almost equals out. But it’s on a month to month basis so if we do get enough summer staff we can kill this and rely on the summer staff to take over.”