Juneteeth in Montclair: Through ‘turmoils to triumph’
“Welcome to Emancipation Park, Montclair, New Jersey,” Rodney Jackson said on Saturday as the community gathered in Rand Park to celebrate Juneteenth.
The celebration was the culminating event of Montclair’s second annual weeklong celebration of Juneteenth, organized around the themes of “Educate, Resist and Liberate.”
Together, guests had just ceremoniously crossed the brook that flows through Rand Park to enter “Emancipation Park'' in apparent reference to the 10-acre park of the same name located in Houston, Texas. That park was purchased in 1872 with funds raised by a group of formerly enslaved community members for the purpose of celebrating Juneteenth.
“This river reminded me of the Ohio River, the Mississippi River and all those rivers that we had to cross to freedom,” said Jackson, an organizer of the event and co-founder of Teachers Undoing Racism Now. Jackson is also a social studies teacher at Renaissance Middle School.
As the beat of drummers from the Maati Cultural Arts Community sounded, Jackson asked those crossing the bridge to “think of our ancestors, 1900, Houston, Texas, celebrating their freedom. That's the mind-set we want to be in.”
Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery in the United States. Although the Emancipation Proclamation outlawed slavery in seceded states in 1863, it wasn’t until June 19, 1865, two years later, with the arrival of Union troops — including Black troops — in Galveston, Texas, that the proclamation began to be enforced in the state. By the end of that same year, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in all states.
In September of 2020, Juneteenth became an official New Jersey state holiday as well as a Montclair Public Schools holiday. It became a federal holiday in June 2021.
Montclair educator and self-titled “minister of metamorphosis” Karma Cloud spoke of 95-year-old Texas activist Opal Lee, thanking her for using her vision to help Juneteenth become a federal holiday.
Cloud then invoked Civil War historian Hari Jones, whose work centers on African Americans and their military victories in their own liberation: “This true story of self-determination, self-liberation and self-actualization is what really brings us here today. It was not the Confiscation Acts, the Militia Act, the Emancipation Proclamation nor the announcement of General Order No. 3 that ended slavery and set enslaved Africans free.
“It was us. Who was it? It was us, and our ancestors at that time, and some of us still today — a disenfranchised enslaved population who, in league with the Constitution of the United States, freed themselves while helping to save the Union, now known as the United States of America.”
Cloud then introduced two of her “favorite elders.”
Artist and educator Ernestine Galloway shared poems on the meaning of Juneteenth and her own legacy of liberation, passed down through her mother and grandmother.
Percussionist and storyteller Baba Eric Rucker led in the tradition of pouring a libation.
“Those whose names you knew who are not touchable now with the hand, those whose names you knew and forgot, those whose names you never knew — remember those people as I pour cool water to the earth and ask for a fresh road in life,” Rucker said as he tossed water to the ground from a small metal bowl.
The celebration continued throughout the afternoon with musical and dance performances, spoken word, food vendors, double Dutch and a bounce house.
The park also served as a miniature museum. Signs attached to trees announced subjects such as redlining, Marcus Garvey, the 1968 Olympic protest, the Black Liberation Army and the Black Wall Street massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Each sign held a QR code allowing viewers to learn more on the topic through various websites.
Jeffrey Peralte said he appreciated the educational aspect of the celebration.
“I liked that they added some of the awareness and the learning aspects because most events are just celebrating the event,” Peralte said.
Diane Anglin, education committee chair of the Montclair branch of the NAACP and emcee of the celebration, said that the highlight of her day was seeing “young people put off their social events to do something for their community. That has just warmed my heart.”
Anglin said the community has to continue to have conversations around the Juneteenth themes.
"It just makes us all so much lighter when we understand that everybody goes through their turmoils to triumph. And that's a great thing to celebrate,” she said.
Jackson said he felt the celebration went well and appreciated the student contributions of art and performance.
He said he liked “reclaiming Rand Park and renaming it Emancipation Park, and celebrating for our own reasons and not for anything that was given to us by someone else.”
Montclair Juneteenth Celebration 2022
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