November 30, 2021

Juneteenth draws hundreds to mark freedom

Valerie Puma/staff reporter

Artist Jean Eduoard Jr. sets up a collection of his paintings showcasing Black culture for Saturday’s Juneteenth celebration. Eduoard owns an art studio on Main Street called Art Temple

Waterfalls cascaded off the sides of the tent Saturday where 200 people huddled to celebrate Juneteenth — the official recognition of Black American emancipation and the newest federal holiday.

Music and laughter echoed across Cortland’s Courthouse Park, despite the rain, for the county’s first annual Juneteenth celebration.

Juneteenth was declared an official holiday in many states, including New York last year, to mark June 19, 1865. Saturday was the 156th anniversary since news of emancipation reached the enslaved people of Galveston, Texas — nearly three years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation

Jean Edouard Jr., owner of the Art Temple studio on Main Street, showcased several of his paintings centered around Black culture.

“The genre of my art is diverse, but today it’s showing Blackness — we are the culture,” Edouard said. “This was a spur of the moment thing, but being able to bring this to the Black community and show my work, show off what I can do, I think it’s great to show that Cortland has something different to offer.”

For more than an hour, people listened to speeches by members of the Cortland County Community of Color Network, a collaboration between Tompkins Cortland Community College and SUNY Cortland.

A half-dozen speakers shared their stories emphasizing the importance of Juneteenth.

For Kharmen Wingard, it took more than a decade after moving to Cortland before he found people he identified with

“When I got here, I searched for community — for people that looked like me, that I could develop relationships, friendships and bonds,” said Wingard, senior admissions adviser at SUNY Cortland. “It took me 13 years to find a communitty, to find a sense of belonging.”

Saturday’s celebration showed him how much the community has grown. Wingard said he was impressed that one two-hour event brought so many people together.

“Today allows us to examine the roots of racial inequality in all of our communities,” said SUNY Cortland President Erik J. Bitterbaum. “Juneteenth allows us to have candid conversations and to create platforms that have difficult dialogues around these oppressive histories, of generational deprivation of Black people and other individuals of color.”