Photos and Story By Timia Cobb
Syracuse residents don’t wait until July 4th to celebrate freedom. For many, the more meaningful holiday is Juneteenth.
In honor of the historic day of freedom for African Americans, residents of all backgrounds filled the city’s streets on Saturday waving colorful Pan-African flags, dancing to music and enjoying food.
At 11 a.m. sharp, dance groups, Syracuse firefighters, church groups, bands and more walked from Syracuse’s Dunbar Center at 1453 S. State St. to Clinton Square as part of the city’s Juneteenth Victory Parade. Syracuse men’s basketball head coach Adrian Autry led the parade as its Grand Marshal.
The holiday honors June 19, 1965, and the order given that day proclaiming freedom for slaves in Texas nearly two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth has grown into a national celebration of emancipation and freedom.
The city began its celebration Thursday with a block party at Dr. King Elementary School. Friday’s festivities included a flag raising at city hall and gospel music in Clinton Square. The celebration at Clinton Square to conclude Saturday’s parade goes until 10 tonight and includes performances by Loose Ends, DJ Zu, Shawn Seals and Meditations.
Ossie Edwards, branch manager for the Beauchamp Library, spent most of the morning talking to parents and children about the library’s summer reading program. Edwards was happy to see youth involvement in the parade and for the children to learn more about Black and local history.
She said it was significant to start the parade at the Dunbar Center due to its history and continued role in the community, especially on the South Side. The center played a key role in helping African Americans relocate from the south to northern cities like Syracuse.
“They have forgotten how great they are and that they come from greatness,” Edwards said. “When you hear about the shootings on the South Side, the killings and the gun violence, that seems to preoccupy people’s minds and memory. They don’t remember the Dunbar Center. It used to be the premier organization on the South Side. They were the leaders in this community. So, of course, the Juneteenth parade should start at Dunbar community center. They have a legacy here.”
The parade ended with a festival at Clinton Square. Autry spoke a few words of appreciation to the parade walkers before thanking everyone for coming out to celebrate the holiday.
“I love being here,” Autry said while on stage. “I’m a part of this community, grew up in this community. I’m just happy to be celebrating this day with our community.
Jessica Washington, 38, from Syracuse, was at the parade supporting her son, who performed as a drummer with the Blessings in Motion African Dance group.
After walking in the parade, Blessings in Motion performed multiple dances and songs. Wearing traditional African clothing, the group members smiled and encouraged the audience to clap along as they gave an energy-boosting performance.
Washington said having her son learn more about Juneteenth and be a part of the parade makes the celebration a worthy and wonderful experience.
“This is his first time partaking in a parade,” Washington said. “It’s something I used to do when I was younger. I’m just glad. I’m really excited to be doing this with my son.”
Local Syracuse resident and activist Clifford Ryan, 59, represented his organization, OGs Against Violence, at the festival. While he cheered on performances and greeted people, in his hands, Ryan always held a poster asking to end all violence in Syracuse. Ryan said Juneteenth is a day of celebration but also a day of remembrance and prevention.
“One of the things about unity is that it’s a blessing,” Ryan said. “For Black people, unity is something that’s been an adverse thing that we’ve tried to achieve. So when we all get together, and we’re showing a unity, that united front, that’s a blessing.”
Food, literacy and education seemed to be the recurring theme among the many tents at Clinton Square. The Syracuse City School District, the NAACP, multiple children’s authors and restaurants like Henry’s Hen-House were a few of the attendees at the festival.