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Guest Column: Leslie Danks Burke


Leslie Danks Burke is running for New York State Senate in the 58th district, which includes Schuyler, Chemung, Steuben and Yates counties, and part of Tompkins. Her office is at 700 N. Franklin St., Watkins Glen.

WATKINS GLEN, June 18, 2020 -- The greatest death toll by far of any war in American history was in the Civil War.

It is a stark reflection of the power of America’s ideals that upwards of 375,000 Americans died to extend freedom to all states in the Union, rather than let some states leave so they could perpetuate the unconscionable practice of allowing some people to own others.

President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation half-way through the Civil War, on January 1, 1863.

But it took another two-and-a-half years of fighting and death before the breakaway states gave in to these words: "All persons held as slaves [in the Confederacy] are, and henceforward shall be free."

On June 19, 1865, American General Gordon Granger finally arrived in Galveston, Texas, where he let the slaves there know that slavery had ended in the rebellious states and that under his command, his soldiers would enforce Emancipation.

And so every year, we celebrate Juneteenth on June 19 to commemorate that day when the last enslaved Americans received the news that they were free.

Juneteenth rapidly became a day of widespread celebration, led by black Americans, for all Americans. The celebrations diminished in the early years of the 20th century as new state constitutions came into being that disenfranchised black people, but Juneteenth regained its status as an unofficial holiday in the 1970’s. In 1980, Texas became the first state to establish Juneteenth as a state holiday. Today, Juneteenth is celebrated in most cities across the United States.

Yet more than 150 years after we began celebrating the day that the last enslaved Americans became free, we are still battling ongoing racial oppression. Eliminating one brutal and dehumanizing form of institutionalized racism did not eliminate all forms of institutionalized racism.

As Americans, we are offended by oppression. We fight it, as did the American soldiers who died on battlefields to stop the unjust system of slavery from expanding into new territory.
And sometimes, when we don’t fight it, we’re still offended by it, so we struggle to tell ourselves that the oppression isn’t really there.

It is.

As Americans, we understand that no one can be free unless we all are. We believe in a country founded on the principles that all people are created equal, and that government's moral authority comes from the consent of all the governed.

So as we commemorate the day that the last enslaved Americans became free, we must recognize and address this discord between our founding principles and continuing oppression in our country.

Juneteenth has been celebrated throughout the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes and this year is no exception. A few days ago, I watched a beautiful and powerful online celebration of Juneteenth put on by the Southside Community Center, and tomorrow I will attend another Juneteenth celebration at the Elmira Economic Opportunity Program.

As we experience an essential and overdue national reckoning on America’s racial oppression that continues today, let us also be inspired on our journey by Harriet Tubman’s description of the glorious feeling freedom brings. As she crossed over from bondage in Maryland to freedom in Pennsylvania, Tubman said:

“I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person now I was free. There was such glory over everything. The sun came up like gold through the trees and I felt like I was in heaven.”

Let the sun come up like gold for all Americans. Happy Juneteenth to all my fellow Americans.

Photo: Leslie Danks Burke

Schuyler County Officials

Legislature Members:

Top row (from left): Carl Blowers, Jim Howell, Michael Lausell, Van Harp

Bottom row: Gary Gray, David Reed, Phil Barnes, Mark Rondinaro


Legislature Chairman

Carl Blowers, 535-6174 or 237-5469

Legislature Members:

Gary Gray, 292-9922

Van Harp, 329-2160

Jim Howell, 535-7266 or 227-1141

David M. Reed, 796-9558

Michael Lausell, 227- 9226

Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen, 481-0482

Mark Rondinaro, 398-0648

County Clerk: Theresa Philbin, 535-8133

Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222

Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222

County Treasurer: Holley Sokolowski, 535-8181

District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383


State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County

Sen. Charles E. Schumer

United States Senate
313 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-3201
DC Phone: 202-224-6542
DC Fax: 202-228-3027
Email Address:

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand

United States Senate
478 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
DC Phone: 202-224-4451

State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)

Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12247
Phone: (518) 455-2091
Fax: (518) 426-6976

Assemblyman Phil Palmesano-- Steuben, Schuyler, Yates
Room 723, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248
Phone: (518) 455-5791


© The Odessa File 2017
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869