Chestertown kicked off a two-day Juneteenth celebration Friday evening with a gala block party in Fountain Park. Just days before declared a Federal Holiday, the annual event was introduced by BlackUnion President John Queen and followed by great music with the Dell Fox Company.
Queen and the BlackUnion of Kent County were instrumental in organizing the weekend programs commemorating the 1865 emancipation of enslaved African Americans. The day has become an annual celebration since then heightened by a wider awareness of racial discrimination, violence, and the fight for racial equity.
Saturday continued the weekend celebration in Wilmer Park with speakers, music, and food venues, along with the unveiling of the first of a series of town historical markers addressing Chestertown’s participation in Maryland’s two-hundred-year history of using enslaved labor and indentured servitude.
The first annual John Queen Community Impact Award was given to former Queen Anne’s School Superintendent Andrea Kane, who became embattled with the QA school board for addressing racial inequity and continues to promote the understanding of how racial discrimination erodes public education.
“…I stand as a former leader of Queen Anne’s County public schools very proud of the work that we accomplished to bring awareness to the issues of racism in our schools and to begin some inequity and anti-racist practices in schools because that’s what it’s all about. Schools are a microcosm of our society, and if there is racism in our society, it only makes sense that there’s racism in schools, and we cannot set it aside as if it does not exist…” Kane said.
Maryland District 24 Delegate Andrea Harrison, a longtime advocate of Juneteenth as a paid holiday, also spoke to Wilmer Park attendees. Although the paid holiday legislation did not make it to the Maryland Senate this year, she promises to continue to advance the legislation.
“We cannot allow this holiday to become a symbolic victory just buying T-shirts and going to the mall for sale like we do some other holidays in addition to fighting with me for the passage of this bill in Maryland, we must do a couple of things. One: we must pass the George Floyd justice and policing act of 2021, a civil rights policy and reform bill number. Two: we must pass the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act. Three: we must defeat voter suppression with the passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights and then restore and strengthen parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 since certain portions of it was struck down and number. Four: as was amplified by the COVID pandemic. We must commit ourselves to eradicating institutional racism, education, economic, and health care disparities. My friends, I said this is not just a black agenda— this is a critical agenda for all Americans,” Harrison said.
Vocalist Karen Somerville, accompanied by Lester Barrett, Jr. Jerome McKinney, and pianist Joe Holt rounded out the day with plaintive spirituals to Billie Holiday.
This video is approximately six minutes in length.