Juneteenth Celebration on Tappan Square
On the morning of Saturday, June 13th, we started off for Oberlin to table at the annual Juneteenth Celebration on Tappan Square. We weren't feeling very positive about it because, even though we brought a canopy, the rain was coming down somewhat heavily in Cleveland at the time. But, by the time that we arrived in Oberlin, the rain had stopped and it was only cloudy. What's more, as the day went on it even became warm and sunny! Things got off to a really positive start when Mr. Bob Smith from Zion Community Development Corporation stopped over to say that he remembered us from last year and he was glad to see that we made it again. Similar words were also said to us by Mr. H. Scott Broadwell, Oberlin's city council president who presented a proclamation during opening ceremonies to the people who put this together.
Two other people who figured prominently in opening ceremonies were the Reverend Laurence Nevels from Christ Temple Church who gave the opening prayer in which he said, "thank you for the canopy of the sky, the carpet of the green grass and all those gather here today and what this represents." The other person was "President Abraham Lincoln" (enacted by Mr. John Cooper) who talked about what the Emancipation Proclamation was and what impact it had. "President Lincoln" was there throughout the day and proved to be a walking textbook about what was going on in America before, during and directly after the civil war.
We talked to Professor Carol Lasser about Juneteenth actually is and she told us that June 19, 1865 it is the approximately date that the last slave was finally freed in Texas because it took a while for word to travel to the far reaches of Texas that the Civil War was over and the slaves were to be freed.
We tabled just across from the booth containing plants and baked goods from the Rust United Methodist Church. We visited with Ms. Linnell Walker who told us that it was founded in 1872 which makes it the oldest African-American church in Lorain County. Ms. Walker is now 82 years old and recalled joining this church when she was only 13 and has been attending it consistently ever since.
In the course of the day several people stopped by the table to talk about their immigration situations including two people from England; one of whom was interested in becoming a United States citizen and the other one had questions about her green card status. Another person planned to open a Thai restaurant and had questions about the procedure of helping a chef immigrate to the United States from Thailand.
"President Lincoln" even stopped by our table for a few minutes and we talked about citizenship rights of slaves/ex-slaves and how, during the Civil War, newly arrived immigrants from Ireland were often coaxed into enlisting in the Union Army immediately after they got off the ship from Europe and were almost immediately shipped off again to fight on the battlefields.
We had a good visit with a person named Ronald who is the organist at a local church. He said that if we wanted to stop by he would be glad to show us the organ and play us some songs. He also told us that he is a Korean War orphan from back in the 1950's who was adopted by a United States family and brought to the United States when he was only two and a half years old. Thus he has no recollection of his parents or even what his exact date of birth is but he is very happy about the way things turned out and that he is here with us in the United States.
Just before we left about 4:30pm we stopped by the Oberlin African-American Genealogy and History Group (OAAGHG) and talked Mr. David Ashenhurst and Ms. Phyllis Yarber Hogan. They told us about Mr. Henry Box Brown who was so-named because he escaped slavery in 1849 by traveling almost 300 miles from Richmond, VA to Philadelphia, PA in a wooden packing crate in the time frame of 26 hours. Although the box was marked to stand it a certain way, he spent a considerable amount of time being upside down on his head.
The OAAGHG provided a replica of the wooden crate there so we climbed into it and the top was sealed to give us an idea of what it was like for Mr. Box Brown. Just sitting in a cramped position for 26 seconds in the dark was about all we could handle, let alone being upside down, so we totally agree with those who believe that Mr. Henry Box Brown and those who took comparable risks for their freedom should be regarded as heroes.
After tabling all day in the warm sunlight, we were, unsurprisingly, a little tired and drained but we really enjoyed watching the dances of the Lucina Slovak Folklore Ensemble last year at several events and the troupe was having a fundraiser Saturday night at Scoreboards Sports Bar in Northfield so we decided to go if only for a little while.
Mr. Tom Ivanec, Director of Lucina, was glad that we did. Back in November of last year, we wrote the following:
"The idea for a Slovak dance troupe began for Tom in the mid-1970's with a question he asked himself at a local Slovak function while watching an out-of-town Slovak dance group perform. 'Why didn't Cleveland have this?' His interest in Slovak dance was further fed by a growing interest in reconnecting with his Slovak ancestry. In 1981, the Lucina Slovak Folklore Ensemble was born, with he and his late wife Cindy as two of the first, principal dancers...he is still proud to be a part of Lucina, with its young, enthusiastic dancers, dedicated parents, and receptive audiences...Our future goal, as an organization is to preserve and promote the Slovak culture."
It was good to relax for a little while and talk with the people that we knew from Cleveland-Bratislava Sister Cities, Inc. What impressed us was that not all of the people there were Slovakian; in fact we shared a table with a family of Serbian descent.
Mr. Ivanec told us that as far as the dancing goes, their are a few outsiders but the lion's share of the people who stick with it are of Slovakian descent. But for this event, Mr. Ivanec estimated that perhaps only 30% of the 150 people present were Slovakian. The others came because they know how much this troupe means to their friends in the Slovak community and wanted to help them.