Reflections on the eve of Juneteenth
Dear Skidmore Community,
I am honored to write you today to commemorate and celebrate Juneteenth, and in the wake of momentous new legislation that declares June 19 an official federal holiday. This is, of course, a date of immense historical importance to the United States, and in the past year it has assumed a particularly potent status as we work collectively to resist racial injustice and support and understand the lived experience of African Americans and their complex relationship to the promise of America. The very "fact" of Juneteenth — a deferred recognition of equality for formerly enslaved persons — parallels the "fact" of the United States and stands as a microcosm for both the promise and the failure of the nation. Today we commemorate Juneteenth in word and song, and tomorrow Skidmore supports and participates in community-wide celebration events in the city of Saratoga Springs.
The promise of America, like the promise of humanity, is aspirational and always elusive. And yet we are committed as never before to attaining that promise and realizing the goals contained in the concept of a free, just, and equal society. At Skidmore, we continue to prioritize such work through our Racial Justice Initiative and have taken significant steps forward as an institution throughout the past year. As Ralph Ellison writes in his great unfinished novel, aptly titled "Juneteenth," "we are committed to facing with courage the enormous task of imposing an ever more humane order upon this bewilderingly diversified and constantly changing society. Committed we are to maintaining its creative momentum."
On this newly created — and yet long-existing — national holiday, let us commit ourselves again to equality, dignity, justice, and truth for all.
Wishing everyone a Happy Juneteenth,
Marc C. Conner
Performed by Garland Nelson '96
Composed by James Weldon Johnson
The historical significance of Juneteenth
From Winston Grady-Willis, professor and director of the Black Studies Program:
Juneteenth marks the commemoration of the symbolic end of chattel slavery in the United States. President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863; however, it was not until June 19, 1865, when U.S. Army troops arrived on the island of Galveston, Texas, that enslaved Africans there had been informed of the document. Although chattel slavery did not formally end until ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in December 1865, the June date brought cultural significance as the “Day of Jubilee.”
Juneteenth celebrations became a fixture of life in countless Black communities throughout the South, Midwest, and Mountain West, and eventually nationwide, following the contours of the Great Black Migration in the 20th century. Now this quintessentially African American holiday has taken on heightened national significance as this country attempts to reckon with the realities of race and racism both historically and contemporarily.
Juneteenth events in Saratoga Springs
Juneteenth – Celebrate Freedom, noon to 2 p.m. Saturday, June 19, in Congress Park
Saratoga BLM — in collaboration with C.R.E.A.T.E. Community Studios and SEEN (Saratoga Educational Equity Network) — is hosting a community event open to all to learn about and celebrate Juneteenth. There will be art-making, community gathering and conversations about racial justice.
Opera Saratoga Presents “America Sings: A Juneteenth Celebration,” 2 p.m. Saturday, June 19, livestreamed from Caffè Lena
This program featuring Opera Saratoga's 2021 Festival artists was curated by bass-baritone Carl DuPont, a distinguished alumnus of Opera Saratoga’s Young Artist Program who is now a faculty member at Peabody Conservatory, where he teaches voice and a survey course on Art Song by African American Composers.
For more information about these and other area events, visit the MLK Saratoga website.