MANCHESTER, NH – This past Sunday, as the sun beat down in strong heat, members of the community gathered at the Hopknot on Elm Street for their annual Juneteenth celebration. After President Biden declared June 19th as a federal holiday – regardless of what day of the week it should fall on – celebrations of various kinds have taken place throughout New Hampshire. While the state government does not officially recognize Juneteenth as a holiday, many businesses and public buildings closed this year for the holiday.
By contrast, in 2018, Juneteenth was not a federal holiday. Few, if any, closures were seen to honor the day. The holiday was, at that time, relegated to a footnote in history. It took the efforts of several activists and community members to make Manchester’s first Juneteenth celebration happen in 2020.
James McKim, President of the Manchester NAACP, recognized there was still more work to do. In his remarks, he outlined how Army General Gordon Grainger made his way to Texas on June 19, 1865, to tell the Black population there that the Civil War was over, the Union had won, and the slaves were all free. This is the origin of the Juneteenth holiday.
“Many of us hope that this day is seen as a day to celebrate the beginning of restoration of dignity to a people who have been oppressed,” McKim said. “And a day to rededicate ourselves to the freedom of every human being.”
Also speaking was Victoria Carrington, of Native American descent. She spoke of her ancestors who were survivors of residential boarding schools, whose purpose was to indoctrinate Native Americans to the American way of life. In the process, they were beaten, their hair was cut, and they lost much of their cultural heritage. In her speech, Carrington proclaimed that she was proud that her family survived so that she could thrive. Native Americans, she said, are just as much a part of modern America as any other group or demographic.
“So many of our ancestors have been terrorized by colonization,” Carrington said. “So many of our ancestors have had everything stolen from them – their joy, their happiness. And when I think about the people who dwelled on this land before us, their homes were stolen. Most of them were killed, died, or ordered to move to Canada or out West.”
“It is our responsibility, if we dwell here,” Carrington continued, “to remember the people, to remember to protect this land, to keep it clean and safe and create spaces from prosperity. That’s why these events are so important, because we are creating community. We are standing up, and we are gathering together, and we are saying, ‘no more.’”
Carrington can be found on Instagram by searching for Wild and Lee.
Journee LaFond, an organizer for Concord Pride, had a unique perspective on Juneteenth and its meaning for her. She hails from a people who have been in America for a very long time, first brought over during America’s colonization days. She identifies as Geechie, a people in America descended from West African slaves.
“For me, Juneteenth has always represented possibility and potential, as far as freedom goes,” LaFond said. “Juneteenth is not only about the day that a lot of people in Texas found out that, ‘yes, we are technically free,’ Juneteenth is also what we aspire to and shape what freedom is. The freedom to, yes, love who you love and to show up as your authentic self; the freedom to be able to wear your hair the way it grows out of your head; the freedom to be able to use the language that feels comfortable to you that you feel like you’re expressing yourself authentically. All of that is Juneteenth, and it is community. It’s seeing other amazing, brilliant black people creating, sharing, making things, raising children, taking photos, having conversations – all of that is Juneteenth.”