Potsdam set for Juneteenth celebration

Residents of Potsdam celebrate Juneteenth at Ives Park in 2020. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

UPDATE: This event has been moved indoors due to weather.

POTSDAM — When most local residents think of Independence Day, they think of July 4, 1776. But for the second time, the town will celebrate Black Independence Day, known as Juneteenth, which commemorates the day in June 1865 when Black Americans in Texas learned they would be free from slavery.

The celebration will be held from to 4 to 9 p.m. Saturday in Ives Park. It is open to the public, is free to attend and is sponsored by Black Lives Matter of Potsdam.

According to the Facebook event page, the celebration invites local community members to “enjoy a day of black history, black culture, black stories, black art, good food, music, and much more.”

The invitation asks participants to bring family and friends, as well as a chair or blanket, and to wear masks.

Sherry L. Long, co-chair of the Media and Outreach Division of the Juneteenth Celebration Committee, said there will be complimentary “soul food” catered by Big Spoon Kitchen.

She said there will be a “Black fashion show” and guest speakers, including Professor John Youngblood from SUNY Potsdam.

The celebration will also honor the late Lonel Woods, a professor at SUNY Potsdam who died last month.

Juneteenth conjoins the words “June” and “nineteenth” to celebrate the day in 1865 when word of emancipation reached Galveston, Texas — slavery’s last remaining location. It celebrates the moment when all Black people knew they were free.

Juneteenth is often thought of as a counter-balance to July 4, which celebrates the day when Americans declared themselves free from British monarchism, but when Black people were still in chains.

“This is freedom day for Black people,” Ms. Long said. “America celebrates its Independence Day on July 4. Well, Black people were still enslaved at that point.”

BLM Potsdam was formed in 2020 after the death of George P. Floyd, as founder Jennifer Baxtron said she could no longer stand by to witness horrific police brutality steal Black people’s lives.

When asked how Juneteenth connects to contemporary racisms underpinning the BLM movement, Ms. Long said, “We can not end the war on Black lives until people recognize that Black lives truly matter. If others are willing to learn about Black culture, history, experiences and lives, then maybe their own racism, fear, silence and biases will eventually be unlearned and we can finally live in a much more safe and welcoming community.”

On June 17, 2020, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declared Juneteenth an official New York state holiday. Because Juneteenth falls on Saturday this year, it will be recognized by the state Friday.

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