After President Joe Biden signed a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday, the first flag commemorating the special day was raised in Somersworth on Thursday afternoon.

"I'm claiming it's the first. I don't think there's anyone who will contradict it," Democratic State Sen. David Watters told Seacoast Current.

Juneteenth celebrates June 19, 1865, the day that slavery in the United States came to an end two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

It took that long for the news to reach Black people in Galveston, Texas.

Watters said raising the flag was the idea of Black Lives Matter Seacoast Executive Director Clifton West Jr. of Barrington and the efforts received the support of Somersworth City Councilor Crystal Paradis and Mayor Dana S. Hilliard.

Getting the flag was a challenge.

"There's a woman in Kittery who made the flag. We had it today. The rising sun represents new hopes and freedoms and the colors of America. It's just a wonderful moment," Watters said.

Watters, a member of the board of directors for the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire, said they are having a concert featuring the music of Nellie Brown Mitchell, of Dover, who was one of the foremost singers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

A performer from New York will sing her songs.

"I've been doing research on her because we want to get her name put on her gravestone she shares with her husband in Dover. This is an opportunity to celebrate her," Watters said.

Juneteenth became a holiday in New Hampshire in 2018.

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, issued a statement after Biden signed the legislation.

“This is a long overdue and historic day,” said Shaheen. “It is past time that our nation established Juneteenth as a federal holiday to signify the end of slavery in the United States. I supported legislation in the Senate to recognize Juneteenth as a federal holiday because it is incumbent on all of us to never forget the painful legacy of slavery, the brave souls who fought and died to abolish it, and the urgent need to finish the work to dismantle systemic racism that persists today."

Shaheen said Juneteenth provides people the opportunity to highlight the lives, experiences and contributions of African-American individuals who have been shamefully excluded from our nation’s history.

"We must right that wrong. This holiday not only reminds us of our past but drives us to build a more equal, just, and inclusive future,” Shaheen said.

Shaheen helped introduce legislation in the Senate last year to recognize Juneteenth as a federal holiday. To mark the 20th anniversary of New Hampshire’s first Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration, last year, Senator Shaheen honored the occasion and celebrated the life and accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a Congressional Record statement.

U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH, also offered a statement.

“Juneteenth marks the end of slavery in our country, celebrating the strides that we have made toward greater freedom, while also recognizing the work ahead of us. This is an important day to engage with our fellow citizens and celebrate the history and contributions of Black Americans," Hassan said.

Hassan said this is a step forward in acknowledging the stain of racism in America, but work will have to continue.

"Over the last year, I was heartened to see people of all races, ages, and backgrounds gather peacefully to speak and unite against the systemic racism that has persisted in this country for generations. The road to greater equality is not without significant challenges, but I am confident that Granite Staters will refuse to accept inequality and injustice, and work to make real change," Hassan said.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNH

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