AMHERST – June 17, the day in 1865 when the last American citizens were informed of their freedoms and the end of slavery, is an occasion that Amherst has been celebrating for several years.
With Massachusetts making a state holiday, some call second Independence Day, and COVID-19 pandemic restrictions easing, Amherst residents are bracing for a full day of events from the 17th June, which begins in downtown Amherst in the morning and ends in the Mill District in North Amherst in the evening.
The idea, according to the organizers of the Civil War Tablet and Juneteenth Memorial committees, is to organize events that elevate the culture, traditions and heroes of the African American community.
For Anika Lopes, who arrived in Amherst from Brooklyn, New York, last year and will be exhibiting her mill at Hannah’s Local Art Gallery in the Mill District during the evening, Juneteenth will be the culmination of her advocacy during the evening. of last year for the exhibition of the city’s famous Civil War plaques for the first time in over 25 years.
The 1893 marble tablets, commissioned by the regional chapter of the Grande Army of the Republic Veterans Association, recognize Amherst soldiers who served in the Union, including African Americans of the 54th Regiment of the Massachusetts 5th Cavalry .
It was around 2000 that his grandfather, Dudley J. Bridges Sr., who died in 2004, called for the tablets to be given a place of honor in the community. Instead, they remained largely in storage, although they have been refurbished.
“I hope that my grandfather will feel our commitment to fulfill his wish that the tablets of the Civil War receive a permanent home, inclusive and adapted to the history they honor, as a source of inspiration for this event”, Lopes said.
At 11 a.m., people can come to the Bangs Community Center to view the restored stones.
Juneteenth begins at 10 a.m. at the West Cemetery, at the burial sites of Christopher, John, Henry, James and Charles Thompson, who served in this 54th Regiment. This tribute to soldiers will include a military salute provided by the Peter Brace Brigade, a Springfield-based Civil War reenactment group named in honor of Peter Brace who fought for the Union Army as a member of the first black regiment raised in the North.
State Representative Bud Williams of the 11th District of Hampden and Denise Jordan of Springfield’s Housing Authority will speak with Master of Ceremonies William Harris, President and CEO of Space Center Houston. Harris is Bridges’ nephew and Christopher Thompson’s grandson.
Other participants during the day are local historian Bob Romer, State Senator Jo Comerford, touching storyteller Onawumi Jean Moss, Professor John Bracey from the African American Studies Department WEB Du Bois de l ‘ University of Massachusetts and Kamal Ali, associate professor at Westfield State University.
The afternoon will be a community jubilee on Town Common, starting at 12:55 p.m. with African drummers, food vendors representing Black, Indigenous and Colored communities, and the Amherst Area Gospel Choir, complete with local DJs and a magician. .
Finally, the sunset reception will close the day at 6 p.m. in the Mill District. This event, focused on black art and culture, will feature a group exhibition of artists and a fashion show that Lopes helps organize, crafts, food and cocktail vendors, and music by Roddy Rod. and Co.
Lopes Art will be the first showcase for Hannah’s local art gallery on Cowls Road.
Hannah Rechtschaffen, director of Placemaking and director of the gallery, said the goal of the space is to have artists, like Lopes and Richie Richardson, a New York-based fashion designer with a studio in Turners Falls, exhibit their works.
âWe’re here to tell their stories and create a hub for them to share their work and send it to be part of someone else’s story,â Rechtschaffen said.
Scott Merzbach can be contacted at [email protected]