Yesterday, the Town of Brighton held its Inaugural Juneteenth Flag Raising Ceremony where the Honorable William W. Moehle raised the flag and read a Proclamation to be displayed in the Town Hall. Along with others, Supervisor Moehle and Town Councilmember Robin Wilt offered remarks.
As Juneteenth just became a national holiday, the talks provided background on the events of June 19th, 1865 and the place and significance of Juneteenth in American history.¹
Juneteenth (short for “June Nineteenth”) marks the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas in 1865 to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people be freed. The troops’ arrival came a full two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth honors the end to slavery in the United States and is considered the longest-running African American holiday. On June 17, 2021, it officially became a federal holiday.
For example, from Bill we learned that Major General Gordon Granger who issued the order declaring slaves to be free was from Sodus, NY.More importantly, Bill focused on key phrases in Granger’s General Order, particularly that former slaves were meant to understand that whites would be the employers, and they the hired labor. Juneteenth marked only the barest beginning of equality for former slaves. Afterwards, Bill and I noted that one doesn’t have to be a Marxist to hear what Granger was saying: if white Galveston had its way, chattel slavery would simply be replaced with wage slavery.
Robin’s speech was more personal, remarking that she is only the second Brighton Black woman to serve in elected office and the only member of the Town Board directly impacted by chattel slavery in the Americas.
Robin framed Juneteenth as a dichotomy, saying: “We must recognize the dichotomy of Juneteenth as we raise a flag in a community that is largely racially segregated and still bears the scars of restrictive covenants, redlining, and steering.” Afterwards — to a degree proving her point — Robin and I counted only about six people of color at the event, including a couple of invited guests.
In her closing words, Robin offered us a challenge:
Holding a Juneteenth observation in a predominantly white space is a dichotomy, in and of itself. I challenge everyone at this observance to disrupt their own patterns today and spend time in predominantly Black spaces. Take an action to support Black joy. Get involved in an effort that supports equity and justice in our community.
I accepted her challenge.
After the ceremony, while it’s not an unfamiliar experience, I biked through predominantly Black neighborhoods in the city of Rochester, finding myself at a food-and-clothing giveaway on North Street across from Miracle Valley Deliverance City.
Carleton was cooking delicious ribs and chickens. Carleton is such a perfectionist that he kept saying we had to wait longer until his creations were perfectly smoked.
I talked with Miracle Valley Deliverance City Pastor James Hartsfield. James said the event was not planned for Juneteenth, but is a regular occurrence sponsored by his church. I told him about Robin’s (who he knows) challenge to spend time today in predominantly Black spaces. James responded that you could call this a Black space — I was one of two white people — but it’s much more than that: a People Place and God’s Place. Pastor Hartsfield invited me back.
That evening I went to the 2nd Annual Juneteenth Teen Poetry Slam moved from the Highland Bowl to Outlook Field next to the reservoir. Robin had asked us to “Take an action to support Black joy.”
The crowd was mostly Black, but mixed. I asked one white man, there with a friend, why his shirt read THEORY in various grammatical forms. The answer was elementary; the two studied Theoretical Physics at the University of Rochester. Brighton Town Judge Karen Morris was back, handing out flyers on voting. The teen poets appeared to be mostly from the Rochester City School District.
Between the ribs on North Street and the pizza at Outlook Field, I ate enough for the weekend.
The teen poets recited pieces on Black history, their identity as young people of color, as well as on the meaning of life. Inglish Davis (top right) drew laughs for her poem on being told not to be loud — that she read very loudly. Inglish won the $300 first prize.
I also told master of ceremonies Mikey Johnson, an organizer at SAVE ROCHESTER-BLM about Robin’s challenge. Mickey said that while, of course all are welcome, the youth poetry slam in Highland Park was, for him, definitely a Black space: a place where Black culture and traditions are embraced, celebrated, and transmitted over the generations.
Have you taken the challenge?
Brightonian Dr. Rashid Muhammad gave some short remarks. Echoing Frederick Douglass’ 1852 speech in Rochester, “What is the Fourth of July to the Slave?,” Muhammad asked us to consider what Juneteenth means to us. On the question, magazine contributor Karen Nozik writes:
Juneteenth means that I live in a country that is able to recognize its own past mistakes, have self awareness, to evolve, and to improve— a country still grappling with its own history and its original sin of slavery.
It makes me believe that while we haven’t yet arrived, we can strive to become a more perfect union. So to me personally, Juneteenth represents slow progress towards change. It’s uplifting and inspiring in a personal way. — Karen Nozik