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‘We have neglected Black history for far too long.’ Juneteenth brings protesters to Common

Traffic in the center of town was louder than usual Friday evening as drivers honked in support of a group of protesters who gathered near the Common at the intersection of Ayer and Still River roads to acknowledge Black American history on Juneteenth. The event was organized by the Harvard Unitarian Universalist Church’s Social Justice Ministries Council and drew a crowd of about 30 people.

Ginger Kendall holds a sign on the Common. (Photo by Jen Mannel)

June 19, or Juneteenth, is the anniversary of the day in 1865 when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger of the Union Army arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform slaves of their freedom. This came more than two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863.

Social Justice Ministries Council Co-Chair Ginger Kendall said in an interview that this was the first recognition of Juneteenth she had seen in Harvard and that she had not seen the day celebrated elsewhere in Massachusetts.

Kendall said the council saw Juneteenth as an opportunity to keep recent social justice issues on the public radar following the vigil they organized on June 7 after the killing by police of George Floyd. “We didn’t want to let the momentum fade away. We feel like it’s really important to continue to show that this is still an issue in this country and in this state.”

Colleen Pearce, co-chair of the Social Justice Ministries Council and an art teacher in the Lincoln Public School system, said that even in a community she views as socially progressive, she doesn’t see enough Black history in the curriculum. “We have neglected Black history for far too long, and it’s really important that … everyone in the country really realize that there is a whole host of history that we don’t know about.”

Pearce pointed to the lack of awareness of Juneteenth and to the historical mislabeling of a 1921 race massacre in Tulsa—where a white mob attacked an African American neighborhood and killed or injured hundreds of its residents—as a race riot. “There’s a lot of our history that … we’re not really taught and so ... that’s why I’m out here tonight on Juneteenth, because this is important and we all celebrate July Fourth, but we weren’t all free on July Fourth.”

A younger protester echoed Pearce’s stance in a separate interview. Siena Ruark, a rising freshman at the Bromfield School, was standing with her family. She said they were out that night to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement. “I think there should be a lot more taught about Black history and the things that aren’t mentioned.”

Ruark hadn’t heard of Juneteenth until she read an article on it this year. She would like to see the event included in the Harvard Public Schools’ curriculum alongside topics like the Tulsa race massacre and more historical figures of color.

The group, which had been slow to trickle in at 4:30 p.m., was much more timely in its departure. After about an hour, the protesters rallied with a final group cheer and dissolved into the evening’s thick heat.

Protesters react to honks of support from a passing car at a Juneteeth rally on the Common, June 19. From left: Colleen Pearce, Lucy Maiore, Joyce Maiore, Didi Chadran, and Nellie Agosta. (Photo by Lisa Aciukewicz)

Liz, Thalia, John, and Siena Ruark protest as a family. (Photo by Jen Manell)

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