Juneteenth In The North Country: Celebrate Freedom, Promote Healing

Juneteenth is a public holiday that dates back to 1865, when the last slaves were freed in this country. There is an ongoing national debate about how to remember racism and slavery.

This story originally aired on North Country Public Radio. You can find the original part, here.

But black activists in Vermont and upstate New York say the celebration has been re-energized in recent years and hope Juneteenth will stimulate a better understanding of black history in America.

More from NPR: Slavery did not end on Juneteenth. Here’s what you need to know about this important day

Ferene Paris Meyer didn’t even hear of Juneteenth until he was in his thirties. It was 2018. She and a few other black women were hosting an event in Burlington, where Paris Meyer lives. One of them suggested hosting the event on June 15.

“I was like, wait. Say again? What is this black party? I didn’t know, I had no idea, ”Meyer said.

“I really think Juneteenth is an opportunity for America to heal, to start the healing process of this story that she just doesn’t admit.” -Bianca Ellis

Once she learned more about Juneteenth, Paris Meyer says she wanted something this year so the black community could get away from it all. Paris Meyer had recently discovered sailing on Lake Champlain and wanted to share this experience with other blacks.

“I was amazed at how beautiful it was to be on the water, how healing it was to be on the water and I just want them to come out and whatever they are. have to do is show up and we got them. ”

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From 20 local sponsors, Paris Meyer raised around $ 16,000 for the sailing event and for an urban farm and retreat for the BIPOC people in Winooski. There are seven sailing trips throughout the weekend of June 17 for 58 people.

The emphasis on healing is something Bianca Ellis thinks about towards Juneteenth, and not just for black people. Ellis is a former officer in the Fort Drum army. She has been hosting Juneteenth events in Watertown for eight years. This year’s all-virtual event.

“I really think Juneteenth is an opportunity for America to heal, to begin the process of healing this story that she just doesn’t admit.”

For Ellis, this is the real story of slavery – its brutality, the number of people who fought to preserve it, and the slowness with which it was abolished.

For Benita Law-Diao, it also means the story of black people who were not enslaved.

“Blacks were captains of ships, they traded. Not everyone was a slave, even during slavery. There were free blacks. What have we done? What were we doing? How did we contribute? “

Law-Diao has family members who were slaves and later sharecroppers in Alabama. She lives in Albany and helps organize the Saturday June 15th event at John Brown Farm in Lake Placid.

There will be a dance performance, African percussion and storytelling on the underground railway. Law-Diao says she has a deep respect for the abolitionist – the farm is named after him.

“He stood up and said, ‘It’s wrong, it’s wrong. I’m a man of God and it’s wrong and I can’t let this happen. He gave his life and for that I’m really grateful, but it hurts when I think about how he had to lose his life for us to be free.

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There are Juneteenth events and celebrations across the North Country this weekend, including those in Potsdam and Plattsburgh, Saratoga Springs, Watertown and Lake Placid.

Paris Meyer of Burlington says there are a lot of painful things about what is being honored on Juneteenth. She says the day is also a celebration of joy and freedom.

“June should actually be the busiest day of the summer for us here because of what it honors, what it teaches.” – Féréne Paris Meyer

“June should actually be the busiest day of summer for us here because of what it honors, what it teaches,” she said.

By honoring black voices and black experiences, Meyer says, the day teaches a more accurate version of American history and highlights a day when all Americans were finally free.

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