Remembrance and joy both play a role in Juneteenth's history in N.H.
Juneteenth is this Sunday, and while this is the fourth year it's officially been recognized as a state holiday in New Hampshire, Juneteenth festivities have been celebrated in the Granite State for much longer.
All Things Considered host Julia Furukawa spoke with JerriAnne Boggis, executive director of the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire, about how people here have celebrated Juneteenth over the years and the state and federal recognition of the holiday. Also, they discussed how important community and Black joy are in celebrating Juneteenth.
Below is a transcript of their conversation.
Julia Furukawa: Juneteenth has obviously been around since the late 1800s, but it originated pretty far from New Hampshire, in Galveston, Texas. Can you talk a little bit about how it's been celebrated over the years in New Hampshire, specifically?
JerriAnne Boggis: In New Hampshire, back in the 1800s, right after actually the Emancipation Proclamation was made, the Reverend Daniel Austin, a Unitarian minister, he was the minister at what was the first Black church in Portsmouth and first Black church in New Hampshire. He had celebrations for what was then called Emancipation Day. And when he died, he left an endowment for that celebration to continue. And the celebration included the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, invited state officials, music, a grand parade and an oyster supper at midnight. That continued. So it was celebrated on Jan. 1 in New Hampshire. When the June 19th celebration took off across the country. I mean, back in the first one through Galveston, Texas, and when it took off from the Civil Rights movement in New Hampshire, the Black church in Portsmouth started celebrating on June 19th, and they pretty much followed the same tradition that was set, the model that was set back in the 1800s of dignitaries, speech, oratory. They would read the Emancipation Proclamation. And it's been on and off since then through what was the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail, the New Hope Baptist Church and now with us, the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire.
Julia Furukawa: Wow. So a pretty long history here in New Hampshire.
JerriAnne Boggis: Yeah, a full history of celebrating, actually. What was the promise? I think New Hampshire, we celebrated that whole notion not of freedom, but that quest for freedom, that all people were indeed created free and equal.
Julia Furukawa: Juneteenth was only recently made a state holiday in 2019 and a federal holiday in 2021. How do you think government recognition of the holiday changes things?
JerriAnne Boggis: Of course it changes everything. Juneteenth was predominantly a Black organization, a Black community celebration. It was a day of remembrance, remembering that history that even though there was the Emancipation Proclamation made, it would take two years before enslaved people in Galveston were free. And we're not even sure how many years after that were small pockets of enslaved people were freed. So it's a time to look back at that history and measure the nation's progress in battling inequality. And celebrating what it means to be Black, to be African American in this country. One of the dangers of it becoming this widespread is, as we tend to do in America, everything becomes commercialized and you may tend to lose the meaning behind the celebration.
Julia Furukawa: Well, this year, the Black Heritage Trail is putting together Juneteenth celebrations, and they're all about celebrating African American arts, and they're featuring media and performances. JerriAnne, can you tell me about the role of art in Juneteenth celebrations?
JerriAnne Boggis: Not only for us, but across the country, I think art is used as a tool for raising awareness, right? No matter the form of art, whether it's public arts through murals, celebrating through song or, you know, this creation, it raises awareness of our history in a celebratory, creative way. So that's why we decided to focus on the arts, especially here in New Hampshire, where we're starting to see much more public art going up in spaces that we would normally think were representing predominantly white folks, like the murals in Nashua, the murals in Manchester that include people of color in those murals. So we're seeing the inclusion of people of color, of Black people, of cultural differences, nonwhite cultural celebrations included in these predominantly white spaces through art. And once you do that inclusion, you really raise the awareness of the people that are in your community.
Julia Furukawa: Juneteenth is a holiday that both acknowledges this country's violent legacy of slavery and celebrates Black joy. Can you talk about the significance of Black joy in Juneteenth celebrations?
JerriAnne Boggis: Oh, absolutely. So often the story, the stereotypical story of African Americans and Blacks is the downtrodden, the enslaved, all the bad stereotypes. The uneducated, the lowly and here, with Juneteenth, it's that joy, that joy of freedom that all people can connect with, that joy of being human, that joy of enjoying each other's company, of enjoying good food, of enjoying good entertainment, of people coming together in a celebration. As humans, we need that connection with each other. And it's even much more enjoyable when you come in that state of celebrating.
Julia Furukawa: A few years ago, you told Seacoast Online that, "Black history is often lost and children have no idea about some of the people who lived in their towns." How are Juneteenth celebrations changing that?
JerriAnne Boggis: Everything is at a local level. And if these celebrations, these more celebrations across the state happen, we not only look for representation or inclusion, including our elders in our own neighborhood in these celebrations who tell their own stories, they bring their own histories to the forefront. So once we're connected at the local level to our neighbors, to the stores of our past, we have a better understanding of each other. These Juneteenth celebrations are opportunities to raise awareness of not only our historical figures across the state, but even people in our own neighborhood that have their stories to share. That may be different than the majority story.