On a windy, but sunny Saturday evening, the Cortland County Community of Color (C4) hosted the second annual Juneteenth event at courthouse park.
Dozens upon dozens of members of the community gathered for the event to celebrate the freedom of enslaved people in the United States following the Civil War.
“(This event) means a lot as a person of color that’s been here for two decades,” said City of Cortland councilperson Seth Thompson, who is also a member of C4. “It’s great to see the responsiveness of our community. It’s just phenomenal.”
A Brief History of Juneteenth
The celebration of Juneteenth originated in Galveston, Texas. Former president Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, which freed all those enslaved within the rebellious confederate states.
Even with this proclamation and the Civil War ending in May 1865, one confederate state, Texas, didn’t recognize the action. Texas was the last confederate state to have institutional slavery.
On June 19, 1865, Union army general Gordon Granger proclaimed freedom for enslaved people in Texas. Following this, Juneteenth became an official holiday in parts of the country.
Last year on June 17, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law, making Juneteenth an official holiday in the country.
City police chief Paul Sandy lauded C4’s effort of Saturday’s event.
“It’s great to be part of this and see the community support it,” he said. “This is a monumental day in history and we should all be thankful for it.”
The event brought forth four speakers. Phil Turner, head pastor at Bethany Baptist Church in Syracuse, was the keynote speaker. Nathaniel Wright, head pastor at God’s Lighthouse of Praise on Port Watson Street in Cortland; Dr. Erik J. Bitterbaum, president at SUNY Cortland; and Dr. Amy Kremenek, president at Tompkins Cortland Community College, also spoke at the event.
County sheriff Mark Helms enjoyed all of the speakers, but specifically praised Turner for his speech.
“(Phil Turner) really hit it home with his thoughts from start to finish,” Helms said. “I (talked) to him on the way out because I thought he did very well.”
Thompson noted he is hopeful that the event will become a staple within the community of the county each year.
“It should be something people look forward to every year,” he said.
Sandy mentioned he offered his assistance to promote next year’s Juneteenth event, and beyond, in “an even bigger way.”
“I do think it’s important that all areas of our community come together and celebrate,” he said.