Adirondack groups mark Juneteenth holiday with weekend full of events
By Jak Krouse
Heads bobbed, feet tapped, and couples danced to celebrate Juneteenth at the John Brown Farm Historic Site on Sunday. Visitors had the opportunity to hear live music, take guided tours, experience a healing circle and munch hotdogs and chips outside.
Director of the Adirondacks Diversity Initiative Tiffany Rea-Fisher opened the event with a speech.
“Juneteenth is about resilience, persistence, commitment, and respecting the rights of all. Freedom to pursue life and happiness is not a day on a calendar but a way of life,” said Rea-Fisher, the great, great granddaughter of a slave.
“During this celebration, it is important to remember friends and family and to think about what legacy you want to leave and always remember to be kind to one another,” she said.
Juneteenth, a federal holiday since 2021, celebrates the ending of slavery for Black people in the United States of America. On June 19, 1865, nearly two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, the news of freedom reached African Americans in deep Texas.
Visitors listened to a blend of R&B, jazz, funk and reggae by the Music Fusion Collective Director, Jo Sallins, and a band he assembled just for the event. They also braved the downcast weather to explore the house and grave of John Brown and the more recent Memorial Field for Black Lives exhibit by artist Karen Davidson Seward.
Calexis Madison drove an hour and a half to attend the event and said the experience was a learning opportunity.
“It’s a celebration of those that suffered to give us the freedom that we have today. But it’s also an education thing, because I feel like every year when I come out to Juneteenth I learn something new. And that’s really what it’s about. It’s about educating yourself, but also celebrating those who suffered on your behalf. There’s a lack of understanding of the holiday here,” Madison said.
Martha Spears, a visitor from Lake Placid, shared the sentiment.
“There’s a lack of diversity in the Adirondacks and if you grow up in an all-white community you’re going to misunderstand,” Spears said.
Mindy Fairchild recently moved to the area and said she had wanted to visit the site for a long time, but it never seemed like a good time.
“Today we went and listened to good music and we went on a tour of the place which was so full of information that I just did not know,” she said. “I learned how much you don’t know and that makes you realize that if you want to know, you have to put some effort into it.”
The event was put on by John Brown Lives! with funding from North Elba Local Enhancement Advancement Fund (LEAF). It was part of “Colors of Freedom in the Adirondacks,” a tour from June 17 to 19 in Clinton and Essex counties. It involved reenactments, music, and education.
North Country Underground Railroad Association president Jacqueline Madison helped to organize the event and the reenactments on Saturday.
“We thought this would be a good holiday to showcase this area,” she said. “We wanted to talk about what freedom really means here for everyone.”
As part of the tour, a screening of “Songs of Slavery and Emancipation” by filmmaker Mat Callahan will play at Lake Flower Landing in Saranac Lake. The event starts at 6 p.m. for pizza and conversation, followed by the film at 7 p.m.
John Brown Lives! Founder and Executive Director Martha Swan said holidays can be a tool to reckon with ourselves as a community.
“This is not somebody else’s history,” she said. “This is our history. It’s not somebody else’s history in some other place. We need to learn it. We need to reckon with it, we need to repair it.”
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