Pittsfield Celebrates Freedom on Juneteenth
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Durant Park was alive with the city's first official Juneteenth celebration on Sunday.
"This was our Independence Day because we know that July 4th didn't include everybody," Berkshire NAACP President Dennis Powell said.
"And so that's why we celebrate."
The event was a collaborative effort between various Black organizations in Berkshire County. It included around 20 booths offering food, hand-crafted items, and children's games. This was accompanied by performances throughout the day.
Juneteenth was recognized as a local, state, and national holiday for the first time last year. The city of Pittsfield added the holiday to its municipal roster in May 2021, Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill making Juneteenth a state holiday in July 2020, and President Biden signed a bill making it a national holiday in June 2021.
The final execution and fulfillment of the terms of the Emancipation Proclamation was signed on June 19, 1865, when Union Army Gen. Gordan Granger's General Order No. 3 freed enslaved people in Texas, ending slavery in the United States after more than 300 years.
During Sunday's event, around 30 stipends were given to students who are continuing their education from the Women of Color Giving Circle, the NAACP, and St. John's Lodge 10.
This year, the NAACP raised more than $65,000 to subsidize funding in freshman and sophomore years. Students attending four-year institutions received $1,000 stipends, two-year colleges $800, and trade school $400.
"Nothing speaks more to freedom than education," Powell said. "This is why we pick Juneteenth as a day to honor our graduates, our students who completed 12 years of education when all the terms were not what they should have been for them."
He added that the students walking the stage are amazing people who will be future leaders and "lead better than our leaders now are leading us."
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an abbreviated Juneteenth celebration last year at Park Square, where the stipends were distributed.
This year's celebration is a new tradition. Powell explained that it will replace The Gathering, which was held at the park for 45 years in the fourth week of July.
He emphasized the importance of Juneteenth not becoming a profit-making holiday for corporations.
Powell said he wanted this day to be one of celebration and free of "political aspects." He sent out a memo to both candidates in the district attorney's race, Andrea Harrington and Timothy Shugrue, asking them not to advertise their campaigns at the event.
"This is not that kind of a day," he said.
The West Side Mural Project was among many organizations at the event and brought murals on large pieces of wood that will decorate Durant Park as well as other locations on the West Side.
It was kicked off in May to imagine the neighborhood as a canvas with neighbors as the artists. The project has produced six original murals, some of which were displayed at the celebration.
"This is a neighborhood that has the most beautiful people in Pittsfield and it often doesn't get that rep," organizer Kamaar Taliaferro said.
"A lot of people on the other side of North Street don't cross it, come and find that out, but maybe they will when they see what we can create together."
Sabrina Powell of the 413 West Side Rollers was collecting signatures in support of a roller rink in the city. She has collected around 2,500 and has a goal of 5,000.
"It'd be a community outlet for so many because it's desperately needed, we really have nothing," Powell said, adding that there is also a lack of activities for kids in the wider county.
A community give-back day is planned for Aug. 20 at Dorothy Amos Park. It will feature roller skating, free food and drinks, music, and giveaways.
Tami Gouveia, Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, stopped by the celebration to show her support. Planners did not expect the event to garner attention from the eastern side of the state.
"For us, it's been really important to make sure that we are in community with local activists, particularly our Black local activists as well as all activist and community organizations that are standing up for justice, standing up for equity and inclusion," the Acton state representative said.
"And what better way to really punctuate that than to celebrate Juneteenth in various communities across the state."
Juneteenth weekend was kicked off on Friday with the unveiling of the mural "Black Abundance" by 22-year-old artist Frances Chlöe Jones-Whitman. On Saturday, there was a Rainbow Ruby mural unveiling on College Way.
City offices will be closed on Monday in observance of the holiday.
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