The Black Lives Matter protests and vigils across New Hampshire in recent weeks gave Tia Parker some hope that people might actually come to a Juneteenth party in Manchester.
She helped organize Manchester’s first Juneteenth party on Friday, June 19 — a year after the state recognized the holiday, and a few years after celebrations began in Portsmouth and Nashua.
Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when news reached Texas that the Civil War was over and enslaved people were free — more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
“It’s celebration. It’s freedom,” said Robb Curry, a local restaurant owner and co-founder of Queen City Pride, who worked with Parker and the local YWCA to organize the party.
About 150 people gathered in a small Elm Street plaza for the celebration.
Parker said starting a Juneteenth celebration was a way to feel a sense of belonging in mostly white Manchester.
“When you feel marginalized and you don’t have a place to fit in, you make a place,” she said. “My goal in this event was to get it started. Hopefully, this will snowball into future, bigger events.”
More people seem to be aware of Juneteenth this year, Curry said. “With the momentum going on with Black Lives Matter, people are recognizing the contributions of the black community,” he said.
In Curry’s hometown of Baton Rouge, La., and across the South, Juneteenth is a big deal, he explained.
“As Northerners, we haven’t always had a reason to celebrate,” he said. “For the north, we’ve been ignoring it. It’s a perfect time to embrace it and make it part of our regular culture,” Curry said, after weeks of protests against police brutality and racism have pushed more people to reflect on the black experience in the United States.
“We want people out and we want people to enjoy, but we still have to remember we’re in a time of COVID,” Curry said. “It’s balancing a need for social awareness and public discourse with social distancing.”
Mayor Joyce Craig read a resolution declaring June 19, 2020 “Juneteenth Day” in the city, and congratulated the young Black Lives Matter Manchester activists on making a difference in the city.
Erika Perez, one of the Black Lives Matter Manchester organizers, implored the people in attendance to come to a series of events the group is planning, including youth and police forums.
“It’s not just about saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ in the street for 30 minutes,” Perez said. “I need you to show up for your community.”
“I’ve never celebrated up north,” said Benjamin Pasley. “It’s cool to see.”
Pasley is the general manager of the Bookery on Elm Street, and said the shop has sold out of several shipments of books on race, like “The New Jim Crow” and “How to Be an Anti-Racist.”
Kelso McNaught, a bookseller at Gibson’s bookstore in Concord, said Gibson’s has seen the same demand for racial justice books.
Tabitha Schultz of Manchester brought her daughter Harriet, 4, to Juneteenth. Schultz said she has been trying to figure out how to talk to Harriet about racism, only to realize her daughter didn’t really have an understanding of race yet.
“I said black, and she thought I was talking about the color,” Schultz said with a laugh. So she has been bringing Harriet to recent Black Lives Matter events in recent weeks, and Friday’s Juneteenth celebration, in an effort to make discussions about race more normal.
Devin Swett and Amy Regan, both Manchester residents, said they just wanted to add to the crowd gathered on Friday.
Regan said it was important for her to participate in something positive.
“I’ve been thinking about what my place is, and what events I’m ready to show up for,” Regan said, as she focuses on learning more about racial justice. “We’re here to celebrate, but also to educate ourselves.”
Curry said he hoped Friday’s party would help send a message that Manchester is proud to be a melting pot.
“We want to welcome the diversity, we want to embrace the diversity. It’s OK to be different. It’s OK to respect those differences,” Curry said. “We become stronger and a better city.”