Juneteenth presentation recalls the end of slavery in the United States

June 21, 2024
Two smiling women and a man pose in Room 204 of Town Hall. The women are wearing summer dresses, and the man (Town Manager John Mangiaratti) is wearing a sport coat. He looks very warm.
Left to right: Speaker Nikki Turpin, Acton DEI Director Wanjiku Gachugi, and Town Manager John Mangiaratti at Town Hall celebrate Juneteenth a late spring afternoon. Photo: Franny Osman

The Town of Acton hosted a Juneteenth presentation on June 11, 2024 by Nikki Turpin, director of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at Chapel Hill Chauncy Hall school in Waltham, MA and program director for the Robbins House in Concord. The program was held in Room 204 at Acton Town Hall from 2:00-3:30 p.m. Approximately thirty people attended the program, including Acton Police Chief James Cogan, several police officers, Health and Family Services Director Penny Funaiole, Community Services Director Laura Ducharme, and DEI Director Wanjiku Gachugi. The program was recorded and can be viewed on Acton TV.

Ms. Turpin was introduced and welcomed by Town Manager John Mangiaratti. This is the second time that Ms. Turpin has presented an educational program about Juneteenth history to the residents of Acton.

Dana Snyder-Grant attended the program and said that her significant takeaways were: “Juneteenth is a holiday for all of us. Freeing African-Americans previously held in slavery allowed all of us to be truly free. Free slaves were not allowed to own land. Ironically, they were then arrested for loitering.”

Franny Osman was also in attendance and reported being struck by how Ms. Turpin used the first person voice to connect the earliest person to be taken from Africa into slavery, to descendants and Black people living here today, free.

A number of people sitting facing the front of Room 204. The room is fairly full and you can see Police Chief James Cogan, Council on Disabilities member Lisa Franklin, and Select Board Member David Martin in the audience.
The audience listens intently to Turpin’s presentation about Juneteenth. Lisa Franklin (Acton Commission on Disabilities member) is in the foreground. Photo: Franny Osman

Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19 in the United States, was declared a federal holiday by President Biden in 2021, passed the Senate by unanimous consent, and was signed into law as Public Law 117-17. The holiday commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. It is also called Jubilee Day, Emancipation Day (Texas), Freedom Day, and Black Independence Day.

On the eve of freedom, January 1, 1863, enslaved African Americans gathered in homes and churches to await the news that the Emancipation Proclamation (officially Executive Order 95) issued by President Abraham Lincoln, had taken effect. Union soldiers, many of whom were Black, marched across cities and plantations spreading the news of freedom in Confederate States. However, in the westernmost Confederate State of Texas, enslaved people did not get the news until June 19, 1865, when 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas to announce that the 250,000 enslaved Black people in the state were free by executive decree.

This day became known as “Juneteenth” by the newly freed people in Texas.

Ms. Turpin explained that many communities in the United States hold special events in celebration and remembrance of this American story. Select Board Member Alissa Nicol noted that last year local children put on a play on the steps of Town Hall, re-enacting the first Juneteenth event.

A table with books. Some of the titles include The fugitive's Gibralter, by Kathryn Grover; How the Word is Passed, by Clint Smith, and The Bell Rang, a children's book by James E Ransome.
A collection of books about Juneteenth and other Black history subjects. You can find these books, and more, at the Acton Libraries. Photo: Franny Osman

The event is celebrated nationally with parades, food, live music, local African American walking tours, stories, and family fun.

Town Offices were closed June 19 in observance of the holiday.

Bettina Abe is a long time resident of Acton and a former Town of Acton staff member.


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