June 21 - 28, 2006
By MARY C. SCHELL, The Hartford News Staff Writer
“It's so critical in this day and age for kids to see an event like this. Too many of the black youth here don't know enough about their heritage,” said Andreah Morris of Bloomfield at the 15th annual Juneteenth Family Day at the Wadsworth Atheneum last Saturday, June 17.
The three day Juneteenth celebration, which is sponsored by the Atheneum and the Amistad Center for Art & Culture, began on Friday with a black tie gala and culminated with the traditional Juneteenth brunch on Sunday.
Juneteenth is named after the day that the last slaves in the United States were officially freed in Galveston, Texas.
Admission to the Juneteenth Family Day was free. The festivities were kicked off with a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation on the front steps of the Atheneum, a traditional African Libation Ceremony and a drumming performance.
Visitors explored different exhibits celebrating the end of slavery and the accompishments of African-Americans. The crowd favorite appeared to be Double Exposure: African-Americans Before and Behind the Camera, where visitors could experience historical African-American trials and triumphs through photography, as well as have their own portrait snapped in a photo booth.
“Photography is telling; it shows how we see ourselves,” said Morris, who took her her young four-year-old daughter Zoe to experience the event.
The exhibits and activities at Juneteenth Family Day were specifically geared towards children. Collages, jewelry-making, face-painting and refreshments were among the stations set up throughout the Atheneum. Morris said she was impressed at how kid-friendly and accessible the event was.
It follows that it wasn't just families at the Atheneum on Saturday: Several large groups of chaperoned children came to take part in the festivities. Josh Gardener, a 10-year-old from Hartford, came with a group of over 20 school-aged children from Latter Rain Christian Fellowship Church.
“It's great being here with my friends,” he said as he flipped through ‘O’ magazine and worked on his collage. “We are learning about who we are.”
Hyacinth Miller, a Bloomfield resident, said that she too feels it is important for African-Americans of all ages to understand their heritage. She lingered at the exhibits on some of her personal heroes, like Frederick Douglass, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Rosa Parks.
“These are extremely powerful exhibits,” she said. “They honor people who fought and died to set us free and to give us the right to vote.”
Because of that struggle, Miller said it angers her when African-Americans don’t vote. She said she hopes that individuals who saw or heard about the Juneteenth exhibits will become more compelled to exercise their right to vote.
While the event was designed to impact even the youngest children, Miller said that even she, a history major who spent many years researching slavery and African-American history, learned from and appreciated her time at Juneteenth Family Day.
“You would be hard-pressed to find a person who came in here today and left unmoved,” she said.