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“Yesterday… History Was Repaired, Just a Little: Celebrating Juneteenth in New England This Weekend and Beyond…”

by | Jun 18, 2021


It is not often when one studies or writes about history that you are privileged to use the term yesterday…
As in… Yesterday, Vice President Kamala Harris and President Joe Biden presided over a ceremony at the White House to proclaim Juneteenth, June 19th as an official National Holiday. Not sure how many of you joined me in shedding a few tears while watching that ceremony with the guest of honor, Miss Opal Lee, a 94 year old woman who had worked for decades for this Jubilee- Freedom Holiday to be recognized…

Here is a list of events happening throughout the weekend, including several in person events throughout Boston’s cultural and neighborhood institutions like tonight’s celebration in Nubian Square and events at historic homes, parks, City Hall. For more events in the Boston area, like Somerville, JP, outdoor film showings, big parties, or market events featuring Black Owned Businesses,

Today it was announced that yesterday…. Yesterday, perhaps the most celebratory act in Massachusetts was announced. Yesterday, Amherst announced the beginning of a Reparations fund of $210,000 for direct descendants of slavery as well as current Black residents who have experienced racism and its trauma and community wide repair surrounding racism will also centered around this Repair.

Over the years, as a student of unwinding hidden history of the oppressed, I have taken great joy in observing and at times participating in programming surrounding the truly important work the historians and interested parties are doing in Portsmouth, NH. The Black Heritage Trail in New Hampshire came about when doing street work, several unmarked caskets were discovered and rather than allowing the powers that be to just remove or cover up, an entire history was unwound.

Yesterday… there’s that term again… Yesterday, I participated in an excellent daylong series of workshops about how to research African American/ Black Genealogy including an interesting presentation from
Robert Bellinger, a professor of Black and African American Studies and Culture at Suffolk, University. Prof. Bellinger has done research about his family as well as uncovering the history of enslavement in Concord and Lexington. He will walk more on that path of research this summer. One additional honorific, Robert Bellinger is a master drummer who in ceremony drummed for the ancestors who were buried in those unmarked graves in Portsmouth.

Another historian, Shawn Halifax spoke of the McLeod House where Martin Becker, originally of Surinam and a sailor who came to Boston and lived throughout New England including Manchester, NH where he was the first Black man to vote. Becker spent time during Reconstruction at the McLeod House where he was involved with the Freedman’s Bureau, became a judge and had some financial freedom as a landowner but like many People of Color, formerly enslaved was disenfranchised of his land in the retroactive period after Reconstruction. He is believed to be buried in Fitchburg, Massachusetts where he live during it’s height as a hotbed of Abolition.

Two historians from Arizona State, Charmaine Bonner and Jessica Salow, walked us through the ‘how to’s’ of particular archival research and how to access various papers through certain universities. They talked about the importance of the place where archival and genealogical researcher meet. They emphasized the importance of collections of family archives and how only 2-3% of those held in academic institutions inArizona were from Latinex families. They spoke of the papers of Josiah Bartlett and family, detailing their enslaver history which is interesting in terms of New Hampshire history. And who knew that the University of Massachusetts, Amherst houses the founding papers of the NAACP of Portsmouth, NH? Think of the ties of place based history between Amherst which you read about above and Portsmouth, and Black Liberation and Repair.

Finally, a very poignant presentation by Tonya Ward Singer who while researching family geneology found that eight generations ago in her family were involved in the slave trade in New England. Ward Singer began her presentation by showing us a picture of a tree similar to one Prince Whipple might have planted in the place where he lived. She often picked up a seed or showed us pictures of horse chestnuts, a very visible symbol of her family’s connection to this era. Her family, the Moffat- Ladd’s were the enslavers to Prince Whipple who is famous for his participation in the American Revolution. She has spent the last six years speaking truth to her family’s legacy in slavery. its-unsettling-legacy-of-slavery-in-nh/article_fe899569-0801-562e-b543-a9416dd110c4.html

Portsmouth, where Ona Judge, a woman enslaved to President George Washington escaped, has had a long history of African American and Black History. The Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire will hold a Healing Ceremony with drumming, dance and ritual from Chiefs Wande Abimbola and Oscar Mokeme will be leading a ritual of healing that will be in person and live streamed. According to the site, “Fashioned after a traditional West African Egungun ritual and live streaming from the Portsmouth African Burying Ground, the event features chants and dance by Ifa priest Chief Wande Abimbola and Chief Oscar Mokeme from the Nmuo Society. The Chiefs will be accompanied by drumming from the Akwaaba Ensemble, to invoke and honor ancestral spirits and to offer healing.” new-hampshire-invites-the-public-to-a-healing-ceremony-at-the-portsmouth-african-burying-ground/
If you are free tonight and want to drive to Portsmouth, check out this wonderful concert with Broadway star Nkenge nkenge/

If you go if you listen, know that almost 80 years before Marian Anderson, Dover, NH native Nellie Brown was performing opera throughout the Northeast and Midwest in prominent opera and recital halls. She even owned her own performance company. Nellie Brown Mitchell Concert Company. you-know/ Nkenge will be singing a tribute to Nellie Brown tonight.

Looking for meanigful ways to spend the 4th of July Holiday, spend it in a community read on July 3rd with the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire and a Community wide read of Frederick Douglass’ “ What to the Slave is Your 4th of July?”

Know that this excellent historic work combined with reckoning and repair has been lead by Val Cunningham who I met when this was historical reckoning was unfolding in the early 2000’s and the current executive director of the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire, JerriAnn Boggis, Their work includes historical and geneological research, spiritual reckoning, political action and dance, music, art, literature. There is an excellent and knowledgeable staff, plus many White allies in activism throughout New Hampshire as the trail has expanded beyond Portsmouth to places like Milford, NH where Harriet Wilson lived and wrote the first novel published by a Black or African American. It is now entitled, “Our Nig; or, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black”. Henry Louis Gates Jr. wrote the New Preface (c 2002), Introduction and Notes and did extensive research on recovering this manuscript.

The Harriet Wilson book as it is referred to instead of using the rather uncomfrotable title, was the first nevel written by an Black or African American Woman, Harriet Wilson and originally published in 1859. The original title, “Our Nig; or, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black, In a two- Story White House, North. Showing That Slavery;s Shadows Fall Even There.” which detailed the ‘fictional’ life of a young black girl, Fredo who was indentured to a famiy much like the cousins of the Hutchinson Family singers, promonent abolitionsists in the tent revival movement. Harriet Wilson, nee Adams was born in Milford, NH in 1827 or 8 and her birthplace commemorated with a magnificent scupture, is now on the Black Heritage trail of New Hampshire.

Do not miss excellent talks (recorded) by the Gilder Lehrman for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition at Yale. The following talk would be very interesting to our work of Repair and Reparation. “GLC panel Discussion on Repair of Historical Harms and Global Models for Questions of Reparations discussion-repair-historical-harms-global-models-questions-reparations

Finally, attached is a list of resources I compiled for the Community Equitability Group- Resiliency Gardens Project, “ Strawberries, the Red of the Blood of the Ancestors, a Bit of the Needham Story and Juneteenth…” Contained within, recipes and discussions by Black Chefs like Carla Hall and Marcus Samuelsson, recipes and the importance of strawberry soda to James E. Causey’s recollection of his elders celebration of Juneteenth in “What My Southern Grandparents Taught Me About Juneteenth” There are recipes for red velvet biscuits and bbq brisket sandwiches, strawberry pie and Watermelon radish salad. There is a bit of history and popular culture as the cast of ‘Black-ish’ discusses the significance of their Juneteenth Episode.

May our work in Massachusetts… in Needham grow in research and detailed understanding intellectually, historically and spritually in knowledge of the hidden histories of Enslavement and the Vast Contributions by the formerly Enslaved People of this region brought to the sunlight by our willingness to look and the ancestors to these lands willingness to share. And may we be able to say… Yesterday…