By Michael P. Walsh
Special to the Voice
Mayor Nancy R. Rossi fittingly issued a proclamation declaring Juneteenth in West Haven on June 19 during the city’s first Juneteenth celebration in Allingtown’s Brent Watt Park.
The community event, called West Haven Celebrates Juneteenth, was organized by Councilwomen Robbin Watt Hamilton (D-5), and Treneé McGee (D-7), and was sponsored by districts 5 and 7 of the Democratic Town Committee as part of the West Haven Centennial Celebration.
The three-hour event, held in the small but well-arranged park on Tile Street, included remarks by Rossi, McGee and Watt Hamilton, along with a rendition of the Black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Police Commissioner Christopher M. Suggs served as the master of ceremonies.
June 19 is the traditional commemoration date of the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. President Abraham Lincoln first issued the Emancipation Proclamation declaring all slaves free in Confederate territory on Sept. 22, 1862, but the news took time to travel.
“On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers led by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger landed on the shores of Galveston, Texas, to declare that the Civil War had ended and that enslaved people were now free,” said Rossi, reading the proclamation to the crowd.
Since the first Juneteenth event in Texas in 1866, Juneteenth has been observed in hundreds of communities across the country, providing an opportunity to mark the emancipation of enslaved people.
“Juneteenth also highlights the artistic and intellectual achievements collectively preserved through the slave trade, the emancipation era and the civil rights movement, as well as more recent accomplishments of African American cultural expression,” Rossi said.
West Haven’s Juneteenth celebration featured performances by talented young people from the area, including cheerleaders, a poet, dancers, a saxophonist and singers.
It also included a drum call by Rhythm From the Heart, a performance by the Village Drill Team and a concert by The Nu Groove Band, which played R&B and classic rock hits.
Local artists and authors showed their works, and vendors sold novelties and wares, such as T-shirts, jewelry and soaps.
Vintage cars were on display, and members of the Health Department’s coronavirus response team gave doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to those 18 and older.
“Our community honors the strength and resolve of African Americans throughout our history and commemorates Juneteenth with cultural readings, prayer, musical performances, food, and exhibits of art and literature,” Rossi said.
Brent Watt Park, just a block west of Ruden Street near the University of New Haven and Notre Dame High School campuses, is near and dear to Watt Hamilton’s heart.
The 97-by-110-foot pocket park was dedicated on July 1, 2017, in honor of her brother, the late Democratic Councilman Brent Watt, who served Allingtown’s 5th District from Dec. 4, 2011, until his death on June 25, 2016, at age 54.
Watt Hamilton was unanimously tapped by the City Council on the one-month anniversary of her brother’s death to fill his council seat and to carry on his legacy.
Watch “West Haven Juneteenth 2021” on West Haven YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DhSlClfs1Ik&t=3s.