Vermont nonprofit organizations and municipalities are hosting Juneteenth observances this weekend—putting Black art, culture, heritage, and history center stage on June 19, the date in 1865 when the final slaves in Texas learned about their overdue freedom.
Burlington, Montpelier, Winooski, and Hartford are among the Vermont communities hosting Juneteenth celebrations.
Congress and President Biden authorized the date as a new federal holiday this week, but the Vermont events were on the books long before that action in D.C.
In Charlotte, community service—or what the Clemmons Family Farm calls “love work”—got the nonprofit’s Juneteenth events off to an early start Friday.
“We have to have hope,” said Lydia Clemmons, whose family moved from Cleveland to Vermont to start farming on the property in the 1960s.
The landmark south of Burlington is a rare Black-owned farm that now provides a supportive platform for Black arts, heritage, and storytelling.
Friday, volunteers from the United Way were clearing invasive weeds from an area that’ll become a park. An intimate Juneteenth festival, which requires preregistration and which has a limited capacity, is on tap for Saturday.
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“We don’t hear enough about the stories of communities coming together and supporting each other—of triumph,” Clemmons observed. “Whether it’s of Black people triumphing or multi-cultural communities triumphing. And in the 1960s when my parents arrived, they were warmly welcomed by a virtually all-white Charlotte community.”
Several Vermont communities are formally observing Juneteenth for the very first time.
Craig Mitchell is on the board of Downtown Winooski, which is planning performances, mural painting, and more.
“Let’s dance in the streets and have a wonderful time,” Mitchell said. “Hopefully, people leave with the ideology of ‘let me make it better for all fellow humans.’ Let’s get to the point where we’re all just people; we’re all just humans and we’re all existing together.”
Admission is free Saturday to Rokeby Museum in Ferrisburgh, which connects visitors to the human experience of enslavement and to Vermont’s place in the abolition movement.
The site was a stop on the Underground Railroad, providing refuge to freedom-seekers fleeing slavery in the South.
Rokeby Museum said new awareness of Juneteenth should help keep education at the forefront.
“We’re finally starting to create a more inclusive American story,” noted Lindsay Varner, the executive director of Rokeby Museum. “And I hope they come out and want to explore more of African-American history, Underground Railroad history, the history of enslavement, and really start to get a better understanding of the impact that it had not just in the past, but the continuing impact it has in our country today.”
These Vermont organizations and others have pledged to grow their commitment to the holiday in future years.