Resident, Council Clash Over Moundsville’s Juneteenth Holiday
MOUNDSVILLE – Sparks flew during a city council meeting this week when a Moundsville resident spoke out to protest city leaders’ decision to recognize Juneteenth — which commemorates the end of slavery in America — as a municipal holiday.
Carole Blake Wood signed up to speak during public comment at Tuesday’s council meeting and spoke at length about how restitution for slavery was absurd, as she claimed that no American has been enslaved or owned slaves. She added that her ancestors from England and Ireland were subjected to indentured servitude, a form of bartering common in the 1600s where a person offers years of labor in exchange for passage, usually to America.
“There were approximately 250,000 white indentured servants as slaves, and approximately 300,000 Black servants or slaves. Obviously the black slaves had it … much worse after a set number of years, but the white slaves had it just as bad as the black slaves,” she said. “Who’s going to pay me my restitution for what my ancestors had to endure? Who writes that check? … No one is responsible to me for any check in any way.”
Council had previously moved to make Juneteenth a municipal holiday, making Moundsville the second city in West Virginia to do so, behind Huntington. The day, according to previous comments from city manager Rick Healy, would provide a paid day off work while also providing opportunities to learn more about the history of the day. Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union troops arrived at Galveston, Texas to enforce the emancipation of the last of the enslaved people still kept in bondage in former Confederate territory.
Council voted to approve the ordinance recognizing the holiday at a meeting last month.
Wood called out council members by name for their votes to approve the ordinance recognizing Juneteenth, which she said inadequately represents the struggles of her ancestors. She asked them to repeal the holiday, and instead put forth educational materials to instruct on why the holiday is important — something council had already planned to do. Wood also specifically questioned the cost to the city to pay employees for the holiday.
“Repeal Juneteenth’s municipal holiday, and set a proclamation in motion to educate the public. They don’t know why you voted to give them the day off. … Are your constituents for this? I don’t think so. What about COVID, and the unemployed? … Should we still give them the day off (too) when they’re struggling to make ends meet?”
Wood was immediately denounced by numerous members of council for her comments. Eugene Saunders retorted that his vote to recognize Juneteenth was to recognize the slavery of all people, not just Blacks, which Wood claimed was the focus of the holiday. Saunders immediately argued that point.
Councilmember Ginger DeWitt remarked that she found it odd that Wood, a familiar face in the council chambers, did not raise objections to any other municipal holidays the council had moved to recognize, most recently Thanksgiving. Only when Juneteenth was focused on did Wood suddenly become fiscally-minded, DeWitt said.
“You sat in these council chambers at the end of October when I made a motion to give employees an additional day for Thanksgiving. It cost the citizens money, and not once did you ask us to repeal that,” DeWitt said. “But you’re standing here saying that Juneteenth is only about Black slavery, … and that’s why we want to educate people, but you’ve missed that part, obviously. Being a part of the (Moundsville Historic Landmarks Commission), I would think you’d want to teach our citizens the parts of history that are there.
“Just a month or so ago, the essential workers were being paid three weeks to be off,” she added. “They weren’t producing any work. We decided to give the fire department, police department, and (street) department three additional weeks of vacation. Not once did you come in here to repeal that. Not one citizen complained they weren’t being productive. Now all of a sudden, it’s Juneteenth, and you’re all up in arms. I’m not ashamed that I voted for this, and I won’t change my vote.”
Councilmember Sara Wood agreed with DeWitt, saying that she had anticipated Carole Wood had come to help the city’s education efforts, not argue against them.
“I was surprised to hear you coming and asking us to repeal it. We went back and forth and discussed this in depth that there would be education, … we talked about that multiple times. There will be an educational component to this, to make people recognize the significance of the day,” she said.
City Attorney Tom White, speaking as a local business owner and resident, also rose to speak against Wood.
“I’m proud of our council, and I’m saying this: Carole Wood’s comments about restitution were totally misdirected,” White said. “This has nothing to do with whether anybody owes restitution to anybody. This is a demand that we recognize what happened to people by other people.”