Annual Juneteenth celebration takes on new meaning this year

This article was published 3 year(s) and 3 month(s) ago.

LYNN — Nicole Mcclain, chair of the North Shore Juneteenth Association, talks with passion about the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States.

“Juneteenth dates back to 1865. It was on June 19th that Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, rode in on a horse to Galveston, Texas, with news that the war had ended and that all persons held as slaves were now free. But, this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which had become official January 1, 1863,” she said.

Mcclain, a Lynn resident, said it’s important to celebrate this every June 19. And the North Shore Juneteenth Association has done just that since 2017.

The celebration is virtual this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s never been more relevant or timely given the suffocation death of George Floyd, the unarmed African-American man, when a Minneapolis policeman knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes on May 25. It has sparked protests over racial injustice in every major American city.

“I always joined the Juneteenth celebration in Boston,” said Mcclain. “But I wondered ‘why not hold it right here in Lynn.’ I reached out to people, and many wanted to help. This year will be our fourth annual celebration. It brings our multicultural community together to celebrate freedom and unity while highlighting positive images of African-American people and culture. This will instill pride in our city, educate our community, and encourage inclusion. We host many events throughout the year raising awareness of black culture.”

A ceremony raising the Juneteenth flag will be held June 9 at City Hall. Although the public will not be able to attend in person, the event will be streamed on Facebook Live @nsjuneteenth starting at 4 p.m. The Black National Anthem will be sung by Tunisha Guy and Martina Campbell, and Lynn’s Superintendent of Schools Patrick Tutwiler will offer prerecorded remarks.

The annual Juneteenth Family Fun Day, in partnership with West Medford Community Center, will also be held virtually this year, since social distancing would be difficult. It will stream on YouTube from 4-6 p.m. on Juneteenth itself, June 19. There will be music, dance by Lynn’s In The Mak’n company, poetry, and numerous speakers, including historians from Medford-based Royall House and Slave Quarters.

“This holiday is also a time to acknowledge the many contributions black Americans have made in this country,” said Mcclain. This event is partially funded by Lynn Cultural Council and Mass Cultural Council

Mcclain said the third annual Black Excellence 5K, which usually starts and ends at Rolly’s Tavern in Wyoma Square, will be a virtual race this Aug. 22 as well. This event raises funds for North Shore Juneteenth Association programs, especially the Juneteenth celebration. Details can be found on the North Shore Juneteenth Association’s Facebook page.

Mcclain praised her hard-working co-chair Jacqueline Fitzhugh, treasurer Tamara Kenney, and members April Deaver Mosely, James Mcclain, Erica Seals, Andrea Valentine, and Wendy Joseph.

Mcclain was still reeling on Tuesday after Sunday’s peaceful protests in Boston devolved into looting and violence.

“People left Boston on a high. They were so happy they went and took part in this important event. To have it end this way is heartbreaking.

“I didn’t watch the whole video of the George Floyd murder. Being the mother of a black male, I couldn’t watch. I didn’t want to expose myself to such violence.

“We really need to focus on creating change, not on the riots.”

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