Dunkirk holds 25th Juneteenth commemoration
The 25th celebration of Juneteenth in Northern Chautauqua County opened with the theme “We Made It” recognizing the history of slavery and the endurance of African Americans in the United States.
“Juneteenth now stands together with July 4th as national holidays celebrating the ideals and promises of our America,” said Loretta Slaton Torain after the opening ceremonies for the recent local Juneteenth Celebration in Memorial Park.
“It seems so extraordinary to be celebrating Juneteenth as our nation’s second Independence Day,” she said. “And yet, so ordinary in how right, and regular, and honest we are in finally joining the promise of 1776 that we are all created equal with the date marking the end to our country enslaving Black people.”
Over the course of the weekend, Ms. Slaton Torain estimated that close to a thousand people attended the 25th Anniversary celebration, which included food, live music, family-friendly games and activities, information booths, vendors, poetry slam, corn hole tournament, ice cream eating contest, African drumming and a gospel service.
The celebration opened with prayer by Connor Aitcheson and proclamations from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Dunkirk Mayor Wilfred Rosas, and extended remarks by Dr. Stephen Kolison, President of Fredonia State University. Fredonia Mayor Doug Essek attended as well as Beth Starks, Director of Jamestown Community College’s North County Center. New York Senator George Borello also attended and honored the day and participants. Ms. Slaton Torain and Ms. Tasha Coleman followed with a memorial tribute to the community members who helped start the local Juneteenth Celebration, now in its 25th year, and loved ones of attendees.
Rosa’s proclamation from the City, declared, “Juneteenth remembers African American freedom and emphasizes education and achievement and is a time for reflection and rejoicing, and a time for assessment, self-improvement and for planning the future.’ The Mayor said that “acknowledging our past helps us to understand what all of us must do as a society to improve; and Juneteenth is a time to honor and remember the unbreakable spirit and countless contributions of generations of African Americans. The Mayor concluded, “Juneteenth is a day where we all take one step closer together – to better utilize the energy wasted on racism.”
Kolison asked the crowd to imagine the beginnings of the Juneteenth.
He reminded everyone that, while President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed Blacks enslaved in the Confederate states effective January 1, 1863, those enslaved in Texas were kept unaware of the Emancipation Proclamation and their freedom until June 19, 1865.
“As you know, today marks a very special occasion. Today is Juneteenth – a day we recognize the emancipation journey of African Americans. A day that people in bondage were told, two years later, for the first time, that the Civil War was over, and slaves were freed. “Can you imagine what that day must have been like 156 years ago? Were there screams on that day in Galveston, Texas that sounded like the Negro Spiritual “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last?”
“We can only imagine that it must have been a joyous day. A day worth remembering and celebrating. A day that would later become a national holiday. …
Dr. Kolison linked Juneteenth to the present and the value and promise of education.
“Juneteenth represents a great deal including the possibility of socioeconomic emancipation through higher education. It also means seeking freedom from health and income disparities, which affect minorities disproportionately. These disparities can be overcome through the pursuit of higher education. Higher education paves the way for better socioeconomic status for all of us.”
“Juneteenth,” concluded Ms. Slaton Torain, “is a way for our community to come together each year and celebrate freedom “We Made It“; and follow it with July 4th very soon after truly celebrating and appreciating our independence.”