Connecticut Rep. Kimberly Fiorello’s (R) comments during a vote Wednesday to make Juneteenth an official state holiday led to a contentious hearing.
CT Insider reports the Connecticut House passed legislation Wednesday to establish Juneteenth as the 13th state holiday in a 148-1 vote. The one defector was Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco (R-Wolcott), who objected because it could mean another day off for state employees.
During a two-hour debate on the bill, several Black lawmakers rose to rebuke comments made by Fiorello, a Korean immigrant, including that “since the time I have been here, I have seen a focus on race that I think is unhealthy.” Additionally, during a discussion of the founding fathers’ attitudes toward slavery in which, Fiorello called the three-fifths compromise a step “towards freedom” pushed by northern states.
The comments led to a litany of speakers who pushed back against Fiorello.
“The fact that Black people — men, women, and children — were not seen as whole human beings for the purposes of taxation and representation, that is what the Three-Fifths Compromise was rooted and grounded in,” Rep. Robyn Porter (D) said, surrounded by her Democratic colleagues.
“Us being recognized as whole human beings, I hope that is what this holiday will bring.”
Black lawmakers in the state who spoke during the debate cast Juneteenth as serving multiple purposes. A celebration of Black resilience and a reminder of the racial disparities that still exist today in education, healthcare, housing, and banking.
“American history is Black history, and Black history is American history. One is not able to be present without the other,” said Rep. Corey Paris (D).
“My great-great grandfather beaten, his father killed. Family members sold from one plantation to another, never understanding the true identity of their culture, of their existence. There is no price that you can put on the lives lost, on the bloodshed, on the history unknown. And that is why Juneteenth is so important.”
According to the CT Mirror, Fiorello, who graduated from Harvard, said she sees Juneteenth as an American story, not a Black one, adding that Juneteenth was for all Americans to celebrate the arrival of equality and freedom. She also contradicted Black lawmakers’ view of history and their opinion that racial disparities remain today.
“Disparities do not come from discrimination. There are many reasons for disparities. And that is all that we all have to grapple with,” Fiorello said. “We have to stop, get out of this mindset that disparities mean discrimination.”
The bill passed the state Senate a day before it passed the House and now heads to Gov. Ned Lamont’s desk, who said he is open to enshrining it as a paid day off for state workers.