The Town of Montgomery held its first annual Juneteenth celebration on Saturday at Wooster Grove Park in the Village of Walden. Attendees were treated to musical performances, food, local black history as well as tables promoting several local groups.
The event was organized by the town’s Sacred Place of My Ancestors (SPOMA) Committee. Bernard Bowen, overseer for the SPOMA Committee, noted that they chose to hold a Juneteenth celebration to raise awareness about the holiday and promote the cultures of black communities.
The SPOMA Committee formed at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020. The group is made up of individuals from community outreach organizations such as 845 Unity, the NAACP Newburgh/Highland Falls Branch, local historians, educators in the Valley Central School District (VCSD) in addition to other members of the Town of Montgomery community. The SPOMA Committee’s mission is to uncover their missing history. Through historical findings, development of curriculum in the VCSD and celebrations, the group aims to recreate a more accurate and inclusive narrative of black history in the Town of Montgomery.
Mercedes Ortiz, a member of the SPOMA Committee, gave an overview of Juneteenth to those who attended Saturday’s celebration. Juneteenth is a federal holiday in the United States commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. It is also observed for celebrating African American culture. The holiday was recognized as a federal holiday on June 17, 2021, when President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law.
Juneteenth’s commemoration is on the anniversary date of the June 19, 1865 announcement of General Order No. 3 by Union Army General Gordon Granger, proclaiming and enforcing the freedom of enslaved people in Texas, which was the last state in the Confederacy with institutional slavery.
President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation issued on January 1, 1863 had officially outlawed slavery in Texas and in all of the other states of the original Confederacy. Enforcement of the proclamation generally relied upon the advance of Union troops. Texas, as the most remote state of the former Confederacy, had seen an expansion of slavery and had a low presence of Union troops as the American Civil War ended; thus, enforcement there had been slow and inconsistent prior to Granger’s announcement.
Montgomery Town Supervisor Brian Maher was proud that Montgomery was one of the first communities in the country to hold an annual Juneteenth celebration.
“This is something we’re going to build upon,” he said. “I really love the venue. Obviously being born and raised in the Village of Walden and being the former mayor, I’m a little prejudicial. But I love the fact that we’re having this event here and I really want to just thank you all for coming out and being a part of our history.”