The education and celebration of Juneteenth is spreading across the United States, and areas in Cortland County are beginning to recognize it.
The latest municipality to give recognition to the holiday is the city of Cortland, who will put on a free-of-charge Juneteenth event on Saturday June 19th at 6:30 p.m. at Courthouse Park, which is located at the intersection of Church and Court Street. There will be music starting at 6 p.m., with networking mixed in.
Originating in Galveston, Texas, Juneteenth is a holiday that celebrates emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the United States. New York state officially recognized the holiday when Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed it into law last year on June 19.
“This is long overdue. It could have and should have been done years ago,” Mayor Brian Tobin said. “It’s important to recognize holidays like this one and how they exist.”
The event will be led by the Cortland County’s Community of Color organization, a collaborative initiative between Tompkins Cortland Community College and SUNY Cortland to support and retain professionals of color in the county.
“We thought it was a good idea to celebrate Juneteenth, especially since there are several folks of African-American heritage in the area,” said Tim Thompson, coordinator of diversity and education who is one of the organizers of the event.
Tim Thompson added, “We’re excited to hold the event and have an opportunity to build a community of professionals of color here in the county. We also want to educate the community on the significance of the holiday about history that happened right here in the county.”
The event will be co-sponsored by Tompkins Cortland Community College, SUNY Cortland and the city of Cortland. FunFlicks Indoor & Outdoor Movies will be the entertainment sponsor by providing audio and electricity. Food samples will be offered by The Squeeze Juice Bar (owned by Darris McDowell) and a Tompkins Cortland Community College-owned restaurant known as Coltivare.
The half hour leading up to the event, Tim Thompson said he is “hoping to allow people to converse and get to know one another.” Tim Thompson added the event will stay consistent with the state and county’s COVID-19 guidelines
“America is diverse and it’s one of our strengths,” Tobin said. “We should be comfortable with people who may be different from ourselves.”
An introduction to C4 will follow, with the organization giving a background on Juneteenth, and a talk about slavery and the underground railroad as it relates to the county.
“This is the first time an event like this is happening in Cortland,” Tim Thompson said. “Most folks recognize cities like Ithaca and Rochester as important spots for underground railroad, but Cortland did as well.”
The event will then go into a series of speakers, starting with Dr. Orinthia Montague, the president of Tompkins Cortland Community College who will deliver the keynote speech.
Dr. Erik Bitterbaum, president of SUNY Cortland, and Seth Thompson, assistant vice president of student services and senior diversity officer at Tompkins Cortland Community College, will also conduct speeches.
Tim Thompson said the goal is to add a few more speakers to the event who are “looking to share their thoughts on Juneteenth and its significance.”
The event will be more “educational than celebratory,” Tim Thompson said.
“As we continue to grow and this hopefully becomes annual, the goal is to make it an educational festival,” he added.
Common Council praised Thompson and C4 for thinking of putting together the event.
“Hopefully this (event) is the first of many,” said councilperson Jackie Chapman (D-5th Ward).
Tim Thompson at Wednesday’s meeting was looking suggestions of sources to help him research the history of slavery and the underground railroad in the county.
A majority of the council mentioned talking to the county’s historical society, with councilperson Tom Michales (R-8th Ward) adding the county “was supportive in ending the slavery movement.”
“There were several underground railroad groups from the county,” he said.
Chapman mentioned the county had underground railroad connections through the Hathaway House in Cincinnatus, with the Tioughnioga River and the several older houses.
Councilperson Bruce Tytler (D-3rd Ward) noted New York Central College (also called McGrawville), a former abolitionist institution in McGraw that ran from 1849-1960.
For the event, Thompson noted for those not familiar with Juneteenth, he encouraged them “come and learn about it, and celebrate the liberation of African Americans.”
Tim Thompson also encouraged residents of Cortland to take an active role and contribution into C4’s initiative.
“It implies allyship within and helps people of color feel like they belong,” he said.