By Mary Gardner-Ruch
On Sunday, June 18th, Afua Boahene and Brian Saltsman, staff members from Alfred State College, set up a table at the Alfred Farmers Market and handed out information sheets, buttons, bracelets, and flags to celebrate Juneteenth also knows as freedom day.
Juneteenth is a celebration of survival and freedom. The holiday marks the fact that Black people survived the horrors and inhumanity of slavery. We remember and honor those who perished in the 6,400 American lynchings since the end of the Civil War, the victims of police brutality, the struggle for voting rights, and equality in the criminal justice system. The Emancipation Proclamation freed 3.1 million slaves in 11 Confederate states but didn’t apply to border states like Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri. Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Texas was the first state to commemorate this holiday following the freedom of enslaved people after the Civil War. Juneteenth derives its name from June and Nineteen.
At the Alfred Market Activities Tent, children colored pages representing Freedom Day and made a chain from construction paper. They wrote a word on each link that they felt represented the holiday. Words such as freedom, equality, emancipation, justice, and equal rights appeared on each link.
Youth Volunteers read a book to younger attendees, “A Flag For Juneteenth”, written by Kim Taylor. The story depicts an African American community living on a plantation in Texas. Young Hudah, who is preparing for her tenth birthday, can’t possibly anticipate how much her life will change that Juneteenth morning. The story follows Huddah and her community as they learn the news of their freedom and celebrate together by creating a community freedom flag.
In the back of the book was a note from the author. She shared the rush of emotion she experienced when Barack Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States. She felt proud and excited that an African American man had won the presidency. She thought about women in Central and West Africa and how they were master weavers and textile artists. During their enslavement, they created beautiful quilts with embedded codes to lead others to freedom along the Underground Railroad. They made quilts out of scraps to keep their families warm and created beautiful story quilts that recorded ancestral history and memories. As a quilter, the author knew this was how she wanted to tell her own stories. Her first story quilt, “Full Circle, A History”, was created in honor of Barak Obama’s incredible achievement in a country where slavery was once a legal institution.