In recognition of Juneteenth — a holiday predominately celebrated in African-American communities on June 19 in commemoration of the ending of slavery in Texas on that date in 1865, and thus the abolition of slavery in the U.S. — residents of Delaware are invited to a celebration aimed at bringing together everyone in the community no matter one’s race, economic standing or religious/political beliefs.
Co-organized by the Delaware Community Coalition and One People, the Community Festival Celebrating Juneteenth will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 16.
“The goal of the celebration is to unite all the city of Delaware as one people working together to strengthen our community,” said One People founder Richard “Dick” Jackson, a 1948 graduate of Hayes High School.
Vance Herrell, a 1973 graduate of Hayes High School, added, “Juneteenth has actually been celebrated in other cities, and because we are trying to educate and involve the whole community of Delaware, it was an event we thought we could take and do a different spin on. It’s traditionally just celebrated in the black community, but both the Delaware Community Coalition and One People want to break down those barriers. We thought that would be a good event that we could take and involve the whole community of Delaware.”
According to Herrell, the event will kick off with a “freedom walk” that will begin at Woodward Elementary School, 200 S. Washington St., and end at Bicentennial Park, 121 S. Washington St.
The celebration will continue at the park with several guest speakers: Charles C.M. Kellom, assistant dean for multicultural student affairs at Ohio Wesleyan University, and Delaware County Historical Society (DCHS) President Emeritus Brent Carson, who will speak about Delaware’s role in the anti-slavery movement. The DCHS Education Committee is also scheduled to perform.
Following the ceremony, the community is invited to stay and get to know one another while sharing popcorn, which will be provided. Attendees are invited to bring lunch or supplies for a cookout if they wish to stay and have fellowship with their Delaware neighbors.
“It’s an opportunity to build relationships and have conversations on a personal level,” said Delaware Police Chief Bruce Pijanowski, a member of both the Delaware Community Coalition and One People.
Freedom walk details
Community members interested in taking part in the freedom walk from Woodward Elementary to Bicentennial Park are asked to gather before 10 a.m. in the school parking lot. At 10 a.m., organizers state the plan is to hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony of sorts near the bike path (former railroad tracks) that runs along Bernard Avenue. At this time, the plan calls for Mayor Carolyn Kay Riggle to cut a ribbon as a symbolic gesture of unity among the Delaware community.
“Ideally, it will just be an arm-and-arm walk in which we will stroll north of the tracks to Bicentennial Park to begin the Juneteenth celebration,” Herrell said.
As for the symbolic meaning behind crossing the bike path or old railroad tracks, Herrell said there was an unwritten understanding that once lingered over the community in which African-Americans were mostly confined to the south end of town as they were not welcome “north of the tracks.”
“In the black community, there was always an unofficial boundary that you don’t go north of the tracks,” he said. “Keep in mind this was a number of years ago, but through family discussions or generations handing down knowledge about Delaware, you knew there were certain places you were not supposed to go. There was never a sign. It was just an understanding.
“I would say that probably ended or minimized probably with my generation because I did come downtown. I’m 63. Even at that, I knew there were places where I wasn’t welcome,” he added.
Herrell said what dislike some people still have for others in the Delaware community is no longer “the majority,” and he added, “Prejudice is not an innate thing. It is taught, and we want to reverse that. We want it to be known that the community of Delaware is inclusive.”
Both Jackson and Herrell acknowledge what divide does still exist in Delaware today has more to do with economic standing than race.
“It goes beyond race now,” Herrell said. “It goes to socioeconomic status.”
Jackson added, “Anything that is left over is generated more by poverty than anything else.”
As for what organizers hope comes of the Juneteenth celebration, Herrell said he is hopeful those who attend will “get to know each other and realize that they understand each other through knowledge.
“If that happens, then culture changes,” he added. “The responsibility of the past is in the past. What we have to work on is today and building a better future. We can do that by associating with one another, getting to know one another, having fellowship with one another, and understanding one another.”
Herrell said the plan is for the Delaware Community Coalition and One People to hold more events in the future that bring the community together and allow residents from all walks of life to get to know one another.
“We want this to be an impression on the city of Delaware that reflects a progressive attitude about our town,” he said. “I think Delaware is open to this type of movement. At least I pray it is.”
Contact Joshua Keeran at 740-413-0900. Follow The Delaware Gazette on Twitter @delgazette.