Gloucester celebrates Juneteenth through joy | News

From the grins on children’s faces to the hugs between friends new and old, a feeling of joy shined bright during the Gloucester Juneteenth Festival Sunday.

More than 100 people gathered on the Cape Ann Museum Green to celebrate Juneteenth, a holiday that commemorates June 19, 1865, the day enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, were informed of their freedom more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed by President Abraham Lincoln.

Residents also gathered in front of Gloucester City Hall to raise the Juneteenth Flag Saturday, followed by a children’s book reading about the holiday at the Sawyer Free Library.

“It’s a great holiday to celebrate together,” said Toni Waldron, the organizer of Sunday’s festival and a member of the museum’s Community Engagement Committee. “You come together in solidarity, you come together in community, you learn from each other, you build bonds, you build friendship, and that’s how I believe you build a better world.”

At the start of the event, attendees and organizers took turns reading Fredrick Douglass’ 1852 address, “The Meaning of the Fourth of July for the Negro,” also known as “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”

While the address is 170 years old, its demand for racial equality still rings true, especially after the murder of George Floyd and other Black Americans in recent years.

“In 2020, I know that I was angry, I was so angry. I was so sad. I have a son,” Waldron told the crowd at Sunday’s festival. “I care about that future for my child.

“But we have to celebrate, we have to find joy,” Waldron continued.

“We cannot resist, we cannot sustain, we will not remain brave if we do not have joy, if we do not have love, if we do not have community.”

That’s why Waldron wanted to host a day of celebration on Juneteenth.

At the event, attendees could pick out free books that discuss racial justice and Black joy from local booksellers, make T-shirts and watch a Capoeira Roda dance performance, along with listening to music and partaking in free yoga and sound bath sessions.

Children ran around the green blowing massive bubbles and playing lawn games.

Attendees could also buy clothes and accessories from Queen Adeline, a Black woman-owned business, get seeds and plants from local non-profits and speak with organizations like Leading Ladies, the Gloucester Racial Justice Team, the state’s chapter of the NAACP and the Youth Peace Movement.

Members of the Youth Peace Movement had attendees dip their hands in red or blue paint to create a Juneteenth flag during the event.

Camilla Wilkins-Bowens, a 17-year-old Gloucester resident who is a part of the organization, said Sunday was a chance for community members of all backgrounds to educate themselves on the holiday.

“Personally, for me growing up, I didn’t really know what Juneteenth was,” Wilkins-Bowens said. “When I found out what it was, I wanted to be a part of it as much as possible, especially because that’s my culture.”

The Youth Peace Movement also had a table where attendees could write letters to state officials calling for gun control.

“What we have here says ‘End systemic racism,'” Wilkins-Bowens said, pointing to a sign behind the table. “This also leads back to gun control and how guns get into our community, and we know they’re intertwined.”

It’s easy to get caught up in the violence and sadness that Black people endure due to systemic racism, said Eleyna Bayer, 18, of Gloucester, who is a member of the CAM Teen Council.

“I’m a person of color and my brother is African American, and him getting to see that the color of his skin is a celebration for once instead of a target on his back is so important,” Bayer said. “It’s good to stop and celebrate everything that has been given to us by people of color, and by Black people in this country, which is so much.”

During the festival, the Council handed out “zines,” or small paper books, to educate people on Juneteenth. The zines also contained information on slavery in Gloucester, like how the 61 enslaved people living in the community by 1764 made Gloucester the fourth-largest slave owning town in the state, and racial justice resources.

On display inside of the Janet and William Ellery James Center were quilts created by the late Doris Prouty, a longtime resident of Lanesville.

Many of Prouty’s quilts showcased Black joy and African American culture, with some tying these themes into imagery of Cape Ann. One showed a Black mermaid sitting on a rock, while others showed women wearing traditional African outfits as they danced or held young children.

CAM also had a booth at the festival with racial justice and Black history resources, including information about Black fishermen on Cape Ann.

The Gloucester Racial Justice Team is hosting a 21-day challenge where participants can sign up for free online educational resources on Black history and racial justice. Until Aug. 7, the team will present three challenges each week with online discussions, and on July 10, an in-person discussion. Participants can sign up by emailing gloucesterracialjusticeteam@gmail.com

This history, like Juneteenth, should be studied by all Americans, State Sen. Bruce Tarr said at the event.

“Juneteenth is not a Texas holiday. It’s an American holiday,” Tarr said. “The emancipation and the freedom of those that were enslaved is not the history for one segment of our population. It is American history. and it belongs to all of us. We all have an obligation to understand it and to elevate it.”

Contact Caroline Enos at CEnos@northofboston.com and follow her on Twitter @CarolineEnos.

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