By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter
Shrewsbury – The Kenneth F. Burns Memorial Bridge, which spans Lake Quinsigamond, linking Shrewsbury and Worcester, has become an icon in the area, lit on special occasion in colors commemorating or celebrating people or events. On the evening of June 19, thanks to the urging of two Shrewsbury sisters, it was lit in the colors of red, yellow, and green to celebrate Juneteenth, the official end of slavery in the United States.
As the nation grapples with its legacy of systemic racism after the horrific murder of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police officers, much attention has also come to the Juneteenth holiday. Elizabeth Hylton, a Shrewsbury resident and graduate of MGH Institute of Health Professions, requested that Mass. Department of Transportation, light the Burns Bridge to as well as the Leonard P. Zakim -Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge in Boston, to honor the day. It was the first time both bridges were lit in the Pan African colors red, yellow and green.
Juneteenth commemorates the anniversary of the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865 to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people be freed. This occurred two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, declaring all enslaved people “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”
Elizabeth and her sister Bridgette Hylton, also of Shrewsbury, had wanted to do something in the after Floyd’s murder of George Floyd. Together, with their friends Sanam Zaer and Philip Blumberg, they emailed the Shrewsbury Board of Selectmen and Town Manager Kevin J. Mizikar on June 8 requesting some form of Juneteenth recognition and the formation of an anti-racism committee.
The Board listened. On June 15, 2020, they proclaimed June 19 as Juneteenth Day.
Further, at their June 9 Board meeting, Selectman John Lebeaux made the request to put on an upcoming agenda a discussion of any and all steps necessary to consider questions of diversity, discrimination and racism in the Town of Shrewsbury.
His recommendation was to create a task force that will meet regularly and intensively over a period of time to study the issues and would be composed of a mix of residents and government leaders that reflect the make-up of the community.
Lebeaux’s suggestion was followed by the following from Mizikar: “I grieve for the family of George Floyd and I embrace my role as the Town Manager to better connect the employees of the Town and its residents. In my opinion we are not separate groups – we are Shrewsbury and thank you for the opportunity to state that.”