About a decade ago, leaders at Schenectady’s Hamilton Hill Arts Center were looking for a fair or festival that they could make their signature summer event.
They decided on Juneteenth, a national commemoration of the end of slavery. This year, Hamilton Hill will stage its eighth annual Juneteenth celebration, a three-day extravaganza featuring food and fun for all ages, from Friday to Sunday, June 13 to 15.
It’s huge, said Tony Gaddy, Hamilton Hill’s public relations coordinator. `People look forward to it all year. It’s a great community event.`
Schenectady isn’t the only place local residents can take part in observing Juneteenth. In Albany, the Arbor Hill Community Center will hold its fourth annual Juneteenth celebration on Saturday, June 14, at 10 a.m. Other celebrations are slated throughout the state.
That’s heartening for the Rev. Ronald V. Myers Sr., chairman of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation. His organization works to bring greater attention to Juneteenth, hailed as `America’s second Independence Day.` Vermont recently became the 29th state to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday or observance (New York did the same in 2004), and celebrations are held across the country, even in states where Juneteenth has not been formally recognized.
`It’s great to see,` Myers said. `It shows how we’re moving forward as a nation.`
Juneteenth recognizes the events of June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, when Union General Gordon Granger announced freedom for all slaves in the Southwest — more than two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Former slaves were jubilant after the announcement, creating what is considered the country’s oldest African-American holiday.
In Schenectady, an information table and books will spell out the story of slavery and Juneteenth. True to the spirit of the day, there will also be plenty of entertainment and activities that won’t put a dent in anyone’s wallet.
`First and foremost, it’s a free family event,` Gaddy said.
The festivities kick off at 4 p.m. on Friday at Jerry Burrell Park, where a basketball competition will feature slam-dunk and three-point contests. At 6, an `Honoring the Ancestors` program will be held at Vale Cemetery, followed by soul food dinners and a concert by Azaam Hameed in Central Park at 7:15.
Saturday, a parade through Hamilton Hill begins at 10 a.m.
`It’s a great way to get people in the spirit,` Gaddy said.
The festival officially gets under way at 1 p.m. at Central Park, with inflatable rides for kids, art exhibits, vendors, food and workshops. People can learn and play chess with Maurice Ashley, the first African-American to earn the coveted title of `grandmaster,` and they can meet The Black Cowboys, who are committed to keeping the legacy of America’s first black cowboys alive.
Sunday brings an interfaith service and the presentation of the Father of the Year award. Gaddy said a popular component of the day is the chance for people to take the stage to share a few words about their fathers.
Highlights of the Albany event, meanwhile, include an essay and poster contest, a talent show, arts and crafts and information booths and displays.
To Myers, who lives and works in Mississippi, it’s all a terrific way to acknowledge the country’s history of slavery while at the same time moving forward.
`Juneteenth provides the best opportunity for the nation to bring healing to the legacy of slavery,` he said. `It’s a time for the nation to come together. I’m just delighted to see it.“