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One hundred fifty eight years ago, Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas to enforce President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, marking the end of slavery in the United States.
On Monday, New Canaan residents came together to celebrate the milestone, making this the first Juneteenth celebration in New Canaan since the federal government and state of Connecticut made it a legal holiday.
“This is amazing, we have at this point, almost 400 people have signed up to come, and last year we were at 160, so more than double,” Fatou Niang, founder and chair of Stand Together Against Racism, or “S.T.A.R.,” which organized the “Hearts of Freedom” Juneteenth celebration, as hundreds of town and area residents gathered at the New Canaan Museum & Historical Society for live music, food and games on a hot summer day.
“We are so blessed that the community is embracing it, and we hope every year to have more and more people to the point that we can move it to Waveny,” Niang said.
Monday’s event was the second-ever Juneteenth celebration in town. Last week, Gov. Ned Lamont announced that Connecticut will observe Juneteenth Independence Day as a legal state holiday for the first time in the state’s history. The town issued a proclamation.
Melissa Ruffin attended Juneteenth for the first time and noted that the event had “a nice turnout.”
“It was really good, whoever made this function possible is really nice,” Ruffin said.
The crowds were entertained by local band The Misfits, with several of those in attendance participating with artist 5iveFingaz in creating a community graffiti mural.
Some brought picnic blankets and their own food while others enjoyed soul food provided by Miss Thelma’s Restaurant out of Bridgeport.
Asked about the food, Jennifer Zonis said, “Outrageous, it’s so good.” Miss Thelma certainly proved to be a popular attraction at the event, as the line stretching from its counter almost covered the entrance to the field.
At another stand attendees perused handcrafted jewelry from Malawi for sale.
Edi Misomali, treasurer of Malawi Childrens Fund, said, “These are crafts, jewelry made in Malawi by Malawian artisans, were supporting an organization called Malawi children’s fund, a nonprofit, my sister and I actually are the primary founders, we fund students at various levels, college, high school, primary school, and so all the proceeds will go towards their education and living expenses.”
Asked about the importance of recognizing Juneteenth in New Canaan, Niang said, “It’s part of American history, and I think it’s important that we all celebrate it.” She added that “we should all celebrate that something very awful in our history, in our common history, happened to our country, and this was the official end of it.”
S.T.A.R.’s Juneteenth event was sponsored by the NCM&HS, New Canaan Library, Walter Stewart’s Market, Bankwell and NewCanaanite.com.