Juneteeth Draws a Divided People Together
By Peter Jasinski
FITCHBURG -- It may not be a holiday marked by the giving of gifts or a day off from work, but Juneteenth is a day near and dear to many local residents.
“I’ve celebrated this my whole life,” said Takiea Haynes, a Fitchburg native now living in Shirley. “It’s a part of our history and a part of our culture and a lot of people don’t even know what it is.”
Commemorating the 1865 announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas, but more generally recognizing the emancipation of all enslaved African-Americans, Juneteenth occurs every year on June 19. It was observed by parishioners of New Hope Community Church and other community members in Riverfront Park on Saturday.
As the Rev. Gary Palmer, the pastor of New Hope, explained, the holiday is motivated by the end of slavery, but Saturday’s event was largely intended as a way to bring divided people together.
“We all have commonalities, but there is so much division going on,” he said. “We want to do anything to call us together and realize we’re all human, we all hurt. That’s what Juneteenth is all about. We’re celebrating freedom.”
Event organizer Melanie Kuykendoll said Saturday featured a lot of the traditional music, food, sermons, and activities traditionally seen each June, but there were a few new themes throughout the day.
“This is more important now and the reason is because the next generation coming up has no clue about their history,” she said.
The day also took on some political themes, as evidenced by the Rev. Brenda Palmer’s sermon, which frequently implored her audience to register to vote and get to know their elected officials. A common refrain in her words was the famous Edmund Burke quote “the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”
“This is a time for leaders to lead and for preachers to preach,” she called to the crowd. “If we neglect to celebrate this holiday then we have reason to hang our heads in shame.”
Among the crowd listening to Palmer was Ayer resident Fred Laporte, who was in attendance with his family.
“This is a way to be social, interact with the community and simply just to have fun. Especially in today’s climate when there is all this tension,” he said. “This is a way to fellowship.”
After looking around the people gathered at Riverfront Park on Saturday, Laporte said he thought that fellowship had been achieved.
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