The parade ended at the National Center of Afro-American Artists, where more than 200 people gathered for speeches, music, awards for local students, and readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, General Granger’s Order No. 3, and the Thirteenth Amendment.
The parade and the late afternoon speakers at the Juneteenth observance offered a dual message: a celebration of Black history paired with calls for a more equitable future.
For Ingrid Rush, who walked alongside the parade with her energetic mini golden doodle puppy, that’s what Juneteenth is all about.
The Boston resident and her family have marked the celebration as long as she can remember. It acknowledges, she said, “how far we have to go and how far we’ve come.”
US Attorney Rachel Rollins, the afternoon’s keynote speaker, tied past and present in her remarks, recounting the nation’s history from the arrival of the first slaves in 1619 to current struggles for equal justice.
“You’ve got to understand that all of these things are inextricably linked to how we’re going to move things forward today,” she told the crowd. “We know the truth is that the emancipation came gradually.”
She ended on a defiant note, saying that increasing diversity in the ranks of the city and region’s leadership give her hope, and she expressed her pride in her own identity as a Black leader.
“Black people are the most culturally appropriated on the planet earth” because, she said, “we are exceptional, beautiful, and tenacious.”
Boston City Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson touched on similar themes in her remarks, hailing last week’s passage of a City Council resolution, which she sponsored, apologizing for Boston’s role in the slave trade.
However, Fernandes Anderson said, more remains to be done.
“Who is better qualified than the African American people to change the world?” she asked.
Antonia Edwards, 56, whose great-grandparents were enslaved in South Carolina, spent much of Sunday advocating for a change some see as the next step to address the nation’s sin of slavery: reparations for slaves’ descendants.
For her, Juneteenth is “about paying homage” to those ancestors.
Decked out in a bright red hat and Juneteenth flag draped around her, she handed out fliers on reparations as she marched in the parade and at the observance afterward.
Though the Juneteenth observance marked its 12th year on Sunday, the parade is still getting off the ground.
Parade onlookers were enthusiastic, if sparse, along the route.
Among them were longtime friends Mary Ann Lawrence, 74, of Boston and Jean Kenny, 76, of Quincy, who sat watching the parade from a bench at the intersection of Walnut Avenue and Circuit Street.
“It should’ve been a holiday a long time ago,” Lawrence said.
She hopes the parade will grow in popularity in years to come, she said.
Farther down Walnut Avenue Tanya Regis stood watching in her front yard. “This day has been a long time coming,” she said. “It’s about time they decided to celebrate it.”
Regis, a lifelong resident of Roxbury, and her husband, Marlon, were on their way back from church Sunday afternoon when they spotted the parade passing by.
“The parade was great. More people should be out supporting it,” she said.
Samuel Pierce, 40, chair of the Juneteenth Parade Committee, said he has big plans for the future.
Organizing the first one as the city emerges from the pandemic was a challenge, he said, but for the next one he hopes to have spoken-word performances at the parade’s start, include local high school marching bands, and get the word out earlier.
“This parade is really about bringing people together,” Pierce said.
At the front of the parade Sunday was Denise Washington, a Roxbury resident, holding up one end of the Juneteenth parade banner.
“Happy Juneteenth,” she shouted back to motorists who honked and rolled down their windows to wave at the parade.
“It’s just going to get bigger and bigger as the years go by,” she said.
Alexander Thompson can be reached at email@example.com
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