“It’s called Black Independence Day; it is called Freedom Day. It’s called Emancipation Day. And it’s called Jubilee day. But I say, Oh, happy day, it took us too long to get here where we are today,” said Shirley Turner, Senator of the 15 District at the Juneteenth Ceremony on the steps of the War Memorial on Friday, June 17.
Across the city of Trenton, celebrations and ceremonies took place. However, one celebration stood out as the largest and most prominent. It came in two parts: The weekend began with a ceremony in front of the War Memorial that held speakers, scholarship honorees, and homage to African American roots as Queen Samut Angela Scott poured libation to the ancestors of those who were enslaved.
“I have the great honor of holding space for the ancestors, to some known as pouring libation. We pour libations in many ways, and the way I am going to pour libation today is commemorative,” Scott said as she poured water into a spider plant that honors family lineage. “We give thanks and praise to all of those great ancestors who toiled through the tumultuous times of their lives…we give thanks and praise to all of those ancestors for it not for them, we would not be standing on the wisdom and intelligence that we have today.”
Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora highlighted history and Trenton’s part in securing it. “When it comes to civil rights, the news doesn’t always travel fast,” said Mayor Gusciora. “And by the time General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, on June 1865, President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had already taken effect two years previously…Even after the Civil Rights Acts thereafter, the 13th Amendment, the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the 14 Amendment, the 15 Amendment, the Civil Rights Act of 1875, the Civil Rights Act of 1957, Civil Rights Act of 1964, they still kept on trying to get it together, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Fair Housing Act, the voting rights of 1975 and many more. We’re still trying to find equal opportunities and equality in America.”
He said Trentonians should be proud of their place in securing civil rights for African Americans. “Trentonians should be how proud of our place in history. The Hedgepeth Williams School played front and center in the desegregation of our schools and was specifically mentioned in the US Supreme Court decision. Brown v Board of Education,” Mayor Gusciora said.
The next day there was a festival full of vendors, concerts, crowds, and dancing at Mill Hill Park.
For the entire weekend, African American history was front and center. “It’s a holiday that we can relate to a bit more,” said Andrea Williams, a Ewing resident attending the Juneteenth festival the next day. “Even though we’re generations removed from slavery, we know there’s still systematic slavery and different variations. And so just celebrating the end of one version of slavery in the celebration of a new life is pretty incredible.”
There was live music from various genres and led by all female-based performers, with the headliner being American R&B singer Alison Williams and dedication to the late Cuban singer Celia Cruz was performed by Anissa Gathers. Across Mill Hill Park’s grass, festival-goers danced and swayed to the music.
Christian Wormley, Ewing resident, said it was nice to be in Trenton. “It nice to get out, see a lot like black folks congregate in the area together and nice like familial vibe and mood here, so it’s great. It’s great,”
With multiple vendors selling t-shirts, food, and African American-styled clothing, festival-goers had their pick of what to choose. Andrea Lively-Sallie, founder and owner of D-live-lab, is a Trenton business owner who was selling at the event.
“I am selling custom T-shirts today…business has been wonderful. I’ve sold a lot of merchandise today, A lot, a lot, of merchandise; Trenton has shown me love today,” said Lively-Sallie.
Throughout the events, one of the biggest takeaways was the focus on scholarship and literacy.
“The fact that we are trying to improve our community to make it better for our people, and that we do have sponsorship and support from all the institutions around us,” said Husan-Iddin Abdul-Ghani, a Bank of America Financial Advisor who attended the festivities explained. This included the launch of the Trenton Reads summer program by the Trenton Literacy Movement. Former Mayor and Trenton Literacy Movement Chairmen Douglas Palmer spoke to the crowd on Friday.
“I was visualizing in my mind those African slaves. When they first got the word, When the troops came in…and told them; you are now free…I’m not saying it was the first thing they thought about…but somewhere…I visualize them saying, You know what? Now it’s not a crime to teach us how to read…And that’s what the Trenton literacy movement, our coalition of literacy groups, fraternities, sororities, and others are all about,” Palmer said.
Palmer explained their plan for the summer. “Juneteenth will be the start of our movement…We know Trenton makes the world takes. And it’s still true today…But as of this day, and in September, we’ll have the official proclamation saying Trenton, The City That Reads.”
The mixture of live music, literacy corners, vendors, food, and overall fun is what Latarsha Burke, Executive Director and Founder of the African American Cultural Collaborative of Mercer County, always strived to give Trenton.
“That’s always been our goal. We don’t want any barriers to inner-city or urban communities. Or poor or low-income families not to have the same opportunity to go to art exhibitions or experience cultural performances or top-level performances by entertainers nationally known,” Burke said.
The festivities were planned by African American Cultural Collaborative of Mercer County in partnership with the NJ Legislative District 15 (Senator Shirley Turner, Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds Jackson, and Assemblyman Anthony Verrelli) and Outdoor Equity Alliance. Trenton residents think that they accomplished the mission they set out to do.
One Trenton resident, Michelle Edwards, said it was beautiful seeing Trenton like this. “It’s beautiful scenery… that is a lot of people coming together to celebrate something that happened hundreds of years ago. Like everyone’s learning more… It’s important for everyone to know their history, but you need to understand and embrace it,” Edwards said.
In the end, Burke explained that if Trenton is happy, she is happy. “It’s all about joy and happiness,” Burke said. “And today I was watching the kids over here having an amazing time, the adults having a great time, our small businesses earning and making money. Everyone was happy. And that’s all we want at the end of the day.”