When Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, there was no Twitter or Facebook through which the news could spread.
In Texas, slavery lived on for 2 1⁄2 more years, until Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger landed at Galveston with the news that the Civil War had ended and the enslaved were now free.
That was June 19, 1865. The 149th anniversary of that day, considered by many as the day all slaves were finally freed, was celebrated Saturday in Schenectady, as the Hamilton Hill Arts Center hosted its 14th annual Juneteenth event in Central Park.
“We didn’t have social media, so it took a while,” said Omoye Cooper, executive director of the cultural arts center. “This is acknowledging that, even though it came late. The mainstream U.S. have Fourth of July; this is African Americans’ Fourth of July.”
The all-day event took a healthy living theme this year and featured a health fair, Bokwa, Zumba and Tae Kwon Do demonstrations, a youth talent show, a black history presentation and other performances. There were also food and craft vendors, nonprofit booths and activities for kids.
For Barbara Ann Hughes, the day was a chance to learn some history, while also serving up fried chicken, ribs, macaroni salad and other soul food.
“I just found out how they kept the slaves in the dark,” she said. “When they were free, they lied to them and told them they weren’t. I just found that out, and I didn’t know that, so I’m going to do my research.”
Hughes, owner of Ann’s House of Soul Food in Schenectady, was glad to contribute to the celebration of her African American culture and promote her business. Pat Royal and her husband, William, also of Schenectady, were two of her many happy customers.
“It’s so good, I can’t even talk,” Pat Royal said between bites of a fish sandwich.
While their children are older and did not attend, the couple agreed the event was great for young children.
“The children enjoy it,” Pat Royal said. “If they don’t feel like going home to eat, they can eat here, get to know one another. They got a lot of dances and awesome crafts going on, too — things for children to do and learn.”
“Kids are just getting out of school, right? And this is a good event to start the summer off with,” William Royal added.
Chemung County Sheriff Chris Moss, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, was on hand to address the crowd. His running mate, gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino, was in the area Saturday to attend the Saratoga Balloon & Craft Festival at the Saratoga County Fairgrounds and other events in Ballston Lake, Glens Falls and Halfmoon.
“We want to remember and acknowledge the accomplishments that African Americans have made to America overall,” Moss said. “And as I see lots of children and young people out there, I want to remind them that I’m here as an example to tell you that you know what, we can make a difference."
Shortly after, dancers from the Hamilton Hill Arts Center’s dance troupe, Umoja, which means “unity in Swahili,” took the stage and moved to the beats of African drums.
“It shows my heritage,” said Alicia Hunter, 27, who was born and raised in Hamilton Hill.
The event also served as a major fundraiser for the arts center, which is “struggling with finances,” Cooper admitted.
“This is our day of community here in Schenectady, and celebration, remembrance, honoring our ancestors and acknowledging and celebrating our culture,” she explained. “Whatever we raise is good for us,” she said.