West Hartford’s Juneteenth celebration returns even bigger

This is the town’s second annual Juneteenth CommUNITY Celebration and includes events Saturday and Sunday.

WEST HARTFORD — The second annual Juneteenth CommUNITY Celebration is set for this weekend with two full days of events.

Juneteenth marks the day when a group of slaves in Galveston, Texas learned they were free in 1865 — after the Civil War ended and almost two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

“It’s recognized as a celebratory event, which is consistent with the appropriation that the African American community has often done, where you take something that could otherwise be considered tragic and turn it into a celebratory event,” Earl Exum, president of West Hartford African American Social and Cultural Organization (WHAASCO) said at a recent community conversation.

He said the day was well understood and celebrated in Texas when he lived there, but it wasn’t recognized until recently in New England.

“It’s exciting to see another event from Black history starting to become known and for our town to embrace it and make sure many more people know about it,” Exum said.

West Hartford’s Juneteenth celebration focuses on community, and so the highlight of the weekend will be the community picnic at noon Saturday outside of town hall, at 50 S. Main St., said Adrienne Billings-Smith, president of Concerned Parents of Color West Hartford and one of the event’s key organizers.

“The Juneteenth celebration is about community,” she said at a recent community conversation. “It’s about us celebrating getting over the hump of the pandemic, about reuniting. We have a lot of stuff in store for the day.”

The Juneteenth 2021 celebration comes from a partnership with community members, Concerned Parents of Color, WHAASCO, Noah Webster Library, West Hartford Arts Commission and the town.

The weekend of events kicks off at 10 a.m. Saturday with an installment ceremony of the Witness Stones Project at Old Center Cemetery. This is the project’s fourth installation, which brings attention to the enslaved people and honors their contributions to West Hartford through research, education and civic engagement.

There are already 22 stones with people’s names through the project and 15 more will be added during the ceremony.

“I think the whole Juneteenth celebration is a way of shifting the community’s gaze in terms of racial justice within this community,” said Liz Devine, with the Witness Project.

The picnic follows on the green. DORO Group will be offering a special Juneteenth-themed boxed lunch that should be pre-ordered and picked up at town hall. Shake Shack will offer free custard for dessert. Vendors and non-profit organizations will be set up. Each child will receive a Juneteenth activity packet and crayons.

Lorna Thomas-Farquharson, of the West Hartford Board of Education, and her daughter, Juliana Farquharson, of Sedgwick Middle School and founder of Students Against Racism, will be the keynote speakers. There will also be performances from local DJs, artists and groups. Some of the groups will kickoff a procession to Webster Walk in Blue Back Square.

At Juneteenth art exhibition entitled, “The Intersection of Community, Black Joy, Freedom, History, and Education,” is on display until Saturday at the Noah Webster Library, 20 S. Main St. The library will also be giving out free commemorative Juneteenth bookmarks during that period.

The MLK, Jr. mural will be unveiled at 2:30 p.m. at the library. The mural was created by Corey Pane,as part of the MLK39 Racial Equity Mural Tour, which is led by CT Mural/Rise Up and aims to create murals of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 39 towns throughout the state — one for each year of King’s life.

The West Hartford piece pays homage to the spirit of King, along with West Hartford’s past, present and future and reaffirms the town’s belief in liberty and justice for all, according to a news release.

Live music, speakers and special performances by Impact Choir and other local artists are featured at Blue Back Square following the unveiling. It will also be livestreamed.

The weekend concludes with a service at 10 a.m. Sunday at First Church of Christ Congregational, 12 S. Main St. and the rededication of the newly named Unity Green after at 11:30 a.m. The church voted to change the name after it was discovered the original namesake, Timothy Goodman, owned slaves. There will be guest speakers and light refreshments.

Connecticut Media Group