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Hundreds attend Burlington’s first-ever Juneteenth celebration

Updated: Jun. 19, 2021 at 8:13 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The city of Burlington held its first official city-wide Juneteenth celebration on Saturday to commemorate the end of slavery in the U.S.

The all-day celebration consisted dozens of events across the city, including musical performances, art installations, food vendors, educational opportunities, and traveling museums.

The celebration kicked off with a gospel brunch at City Hall Park. One-hundred-and-fifty people reserved seats at the tables, as hundreds more gathered in the park to listen to the choir. They also watched poets, musicians and spoken-word artists perform.

The Burlington Office of Racial Equity, Inclusion and Belonging says hundreds of people had attended by the afternoon and they were expecting thousands to show up by the end of the day.

Black Vermonters say they were pleased to see so many people come out to formally acknowledge Juneteenth.

“For Burlington and the city and the whole state actually to decide that in every community, they’re going to celebrate this holiday this years is, to be honest, it’s overwhelming in a way,” said Luis Calderin.

“It was a nice feeling, a welcoming feeling to see Juneteenth turn up so hard!” said Myra Flynn, one of the singers who performed in City Hall Park.

Celebrators hung out at City Hall Park all afternoon to commemorate Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day. On June 19, 1865, the last of the nation’s enslaved people learned of their freedom, nearly two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

“I can just imagine the jubilation of coming out of slavery and finding out a document has been signed that says you are free. Oh my god!” said Glenn Taulton of Burlington.

Juneteenth, which was declared a federal holiday this week, has long been left out of history books, leaving many Americans, including Black people and descendants of slaves, unaware.

“I hate to admit it but I really didn’t know much about Juneteenth until the last few years so it’s nice to just know our history and experience this,” said Candace Coleman, who was visiting Vermont from Massachusetts.

“I didn’t know what Juneteenth was, even as a Black person in America, until college. So for me, being able to celebrate Juneteenth this big with all of these people, it’s incredible,” said Belan Antensaye of the Office of Racial Equity, Inclusion and Belonging.

Black Vermonters say now that Americans know what Juneteenth is, they hope they’ll further educate themselves on the legacy and impact of slavery on descendants of slaves.

“Can they support the rest of the fight? Ending the school-to-prison pipeline. Ending economic disparities. Helping us have that conversation around reparations,” said Calderin.

Burlington’s Juneteenth celebration ended with a dance party at City Hall Park from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.

The celebration was briefly paused after a woman showed up in a white hood similar to ones worn by the Ku Klux Klan.

The unidentified woman paraded around City Hall Park and eventually started screaming at the crowd as they listened to live music performances.

Event security followed her around until police showed up.

Burlington police tell WCAX News they spoke with the woman and determined the incident was not a police matter because no crime was committed. They say the woman is an activist who is known to police and was likely looking to provoke a police response.

The Juneteenth celebration went on as planned.

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