Schenectady County

African-American history focus of Schenectady’s Juneteenth event

Schenectad is planning its Juneteenth celebration at Vale Cemetery, a recognized stop on the Undergr

Every June, thousands of people gather to celebrate the Emancipation Proclamation with Juneteenth festivities featuring historical re-enactments and discussions, cultural practices, and traditional African food, dances, and music.

Juneteenth recognizes African-Americans, their ancestors and the freedom that reached the last of the enslaved almost two years after President Lincoln signed the proclamation. It has come to mean as much to blacks as the Fourth of July does for all of America, symbolizing the struggle and fight for freedom in the face of oppression and adversity.

In Schenectady, the Juneteenth celebration will take place at Vale Cemetery, a recognized stop on the Underground Railroad, at 6 p.m. Friday. It will include a ceremony about the history of Juneteenth and the presentation of the Community Fathers Inc. Preservation of History Awards, given to those who are educating and involving the community with African-American history and culture.

Walter Simpkins, vice president of Community Fathers Inc., says he hopes the community can join together for this historic celebration of emancipation and reunion.

“We live in a world that’s all about cultural understanding. Vale Cemetery is a beautiful place where the diverse cultures in Schenectady are represented and a great place to get together for some community consciousness,” he said.

Celebrations in Schenectady will continue at 7 p.m. Friday, when the Hamilton Hill Arts Center will present “Congo Square — African Roots in New Orleans” at the GE Theatre at Proctors. Tickets are $20 and will include a brief traditional food-tasting during intermission.

The show will celebrate the history of Congo Square in New Orleans, which brought together enslaved and free people to share African music, dance, and religious practices of the 18th and 19th centuries. It features a history by author Freddi W. Evans, winner of the 2012 Humanities Book of the Year Award; Ghanaian master drummer and dancer Zorkie Nelson; Umoja, the arts center’s premier youth African dance and drumming group; and Robotic Steel, a local youth steel drum band. On Saturday, Congo Square will move to Central Park in Schenectady from noon to 4 p.m. for more music and celebration.

The arts center is trying to do something new with the Juneteenth celebration by focusing on an event that few know about, said Azure Martin, administrative assistant at the center. “We’re trying to take an idea and expand it, to utilize the opportunity to give new information. We want to bring another level of history to the area,” she said.

Albany’s Ninth Annual Juneteenth celebration will be held in Washington Park from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday. Festivities will include music, a talent and variety show and a dance-off competition. There will also be children’s activities in the KidZone, various educational exhibits, food and community information vendors, a Juneteenth poster and essay contest, and more.

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