Juneteenth returns to Hudson Valley

GHENT—Two Hudson Valley organizations, one in Hudson and the other in Kingston, are sponsoring Juneteenth celebrations, marking African American Independence on Saturday, June 19.

The 2nd Annual Juneteenth Celebration starts at 10 a.m. at the Hudson Waterfront, and activities run until 10 p.m. The rain date is Sunday, June 20 with the same schedule.

Coordinator Tanya Jackson, a Hudson native who returned to the Hudson Valley two years ago, said that the incentive for a Juneteenth celebration came from a desire to “emulate the original Juneteenth’s sense of community” and, personally, “to give back to Hudson [her] gifts and skills after being away for years.”

She noted how Hudson has grown and developed “with new shops” but that the growth and development did not include the Black community, who were being “pushed off Warren and Union Streets.”

Ms. Jackson and her cousin, Ngonda Badila, wanted “to do something together for Freedom Summer” after George Floyd’s murder and the resultant Black Lives Matter protests. “There’s a lot of history to cover, a lot of joy to behold” from the twin traumas of Covid and George Floyd.

This year’s celebration is a much larger event than last year’s, which Jackson described as “more like a Black Family Reunion block party in front of Bliss Tower.”

Saturday’s activities begin with an Ancestral Offering and Remembrance ceremony, led by Nea McKinney. Participants are encouraged to bring photos and artifacts of loved ones who have passed.

There will be an Elders Corner for inter-generational knitting and crochet circles, as well as the making of a community quilt. Participants are asked to bring a patch of material to design with sayings or images.

Diata Diata International Folkloric Theatre performs at noon followed by a 1 p.m. dance and drumming workshop by Diata Diata youth.

A hands-on workshop, Barbering and Braiding Basics, is scheduled for 2 and 4 p.m. Another hands-on workshop is the Planting Corner, where “Grow Black Hudson” founder Nkoula Badila, a healer, demonstrates the planting and uses of medicinal herbs. Also food boxes will be distributed to the public.

On-going activities include lawn games like double-dutch for kids and board games like Spades for elders. There also will be a food truck and live music 4 to 9 p.m. presented by the Melodious Thunk Jazz Festival.

The evening culminates with a showing of the film, “Miss Juneteenth,” which Jackson describes as “reflective of a Black community within a small town.” Adding “It felt so much like Hudson.” It starts at 9 p.m.

Ms. Jackson credits the forming of a Facebook group after last year’s Juneteenth for the growth of this year’s celebration. “It allowed people to find each other, to share services, art, events, needs and exchange resources.” She noted that AmeriCorps is providing shuttle service for the mobility challenged this year.

According to Ms. Jackson, the first Juneteenth Celebration was financed through crowd fundraising, which raised enough money to pay folks providing support services, like erecting tents and DJ-ing, “It generated within the community the sense of We Can Do This!”

She added that this year more organizations and businesses have stepped up with donations of money and materials to support the 2nd Annual Juneteenth Celebration.

‘There’s a lot of history to cover, a lot of joy to behold.’

Tanya Jackson, coordinator

2nd Annual Hudson Juneteenth Celebration

Further to the south in Kingston, Harambee has hosted Juneteenth festivities since its founding, in 2008 by Tyrone Wilson, a social justice and youth advocate transplant from Harlem. Harambee is a Swahili word meaning “bringing people together.”

This year’s Juneteenth celebration is a very special one because it coincides with the grand opening of the group’s new headquarters at 157 Pine Street. The address is also the site of an African American burial ground, which was officially designated as a segregated graveyard for the enslaved in 1750 by Kingston city trustees.

In addition to tours of the .45-acre burial site, Juneteenth activities include music and dramatic performances by artists from Ulster and Sullivan Counties.

Actor Oliver King will perform, as Frederick Douglass, excerpts from his one-man show, “What to a Slave is Your Fourth of July.” Gospel, swing and Jazz are represented by The Saints of Swing and “the beloved” Miss Renee Bailey, along with legendary saxophonist, Eric Person and his quartet. Simi Stone, vocalist/violinist/guitarist, rounds out the musical program. Each artist is scheduled for a 20-30 minute set.

Youth performers, from the organizations, My Kingston Kids and the Center for Creative Education, are also scheduled. Harambee Director of Operations Kitt Potter described the youth music and dance acts as “show stoppers.”

Local vendors offer a variety of victuals. Festivities are scheduled from noon to 4 p.m. at the Harambee headquarters, 157 Pine Street.

For those wanting to know more about the Pine Street Burial Ground, Professor Joe Diamond of SUNY New Paltz offers a PowerPoint presentation. Members of the 12-person Youth Design Team for the burial grounds act as tour interpreters. According to Mr. Potter, the Pine Street cemetery is “equal in significance” to the Burial Grounds discovered in downtown Manhattan in 1991.

He also credited Prof. Diamond’s research and the indefatigable efforts of Harambee’s Wilson for getting the Kingston community, businesses and politicians as well as other non-profit leaders behind the project, which has been in the making since 1999.

The origin of Juneteenth

ALTHOUGH PRESIDENT ABRAHAM LINCOLN issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, freeing Black enslaved people, news of their liberation did not reach western regions until 2 ½ years later when, on June 19, 1865, General George Granger sailed into Galveston, Texas to inform the local populace of a new order.

There were two caveats in the Emancipation Proclamation. It pertained only to the 11 states of the Confederacy, which were considered in rebellion. Notably the slave-holding states of Maryland, Kentucky and Tennessee were exempt. Also, the newly liberated were exhorted to stay in their communities and negotiate wages and conditions with their enslavers.

Nevertheless, limited freedom was cause for celebration and “Juneteenth” was born. (Juneteenth is a portmanteau word blending the sounds of the two words June for the month and “teenth” for the date. Juneteenth is, also, referred to as African American Independence Day.

Many of the people formerly in bondage ignored the caveats and fanned out in all directions to be bearers of the good news themselves and to locate relatives, who had been sold off or had self-liberated. Some African American communities celebrate on the date their states received the official orders of the Emancipation Proclamation; Paducah, Kentucky, e.g., marks August 8.

The original Juneteenth celebration was marked by feasting, including a red, cherry-flavored beverage called “soda”; games, including baseball; music, prayer and storytelling. Public and group activities, generally denied to Blacks. The site of General Granger’s announcement has been commemorated as Emancipation Park.

Juneteenth was avidly celebrated from 1865 through to the 1930s. But its popularity waned due to wars (Spanish American and WWI) and with the shift from an agrarian to an industrial economy.

The National Juneteenth Observance Foundation has worked to revive the date’s significance in the nation’s history and has campaigned for states to officially recognize Juneteenth as a holiday or special day of observance.

In October 2020 Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation making Juneteenth a state holiday. New York became the 48th state to officially recognize the significance of June 19. Only South Dakota and Hawaii still hold out.

The foundation also seeks to make Juneteenth a national holiday.—Lorna Cherot Littleway

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