Amherst to celebrate Juneteenth on Saturday with a full slate of events

  • Amherst will celebrate Juneteenth on Saturday with an all-day slate of events. The day starts at West Cemetery at 10 a.m., at the burial places of Christopher, John, Henry, James and Charles Thompson, who served in that 54th Regiment. In this 2017 file photo, William Harris of Houston, Texas, left, and his mother Edythe Harris of Greenfield attend a ceremony to dedicate a monument honoring a family of black soldiers who fought for the Union during the Civil War. Edythe Harris is the great-great granddaughter of Christopher Thompson. Gazette file photo

Staff Writer
Published: 6/15/2021 12:06:23 PM

AMHERST — Juneteenth, the day in 1865 when the last U.S. citizens were informed about their freedoms and the end of slavery, is an occasion that Amherst has celebrated for several years.

With Massachusetts making a state holiday of the day some refer to as the second Independence Day, and COVID-19 pandemic restrictions easing, Amherst residents are preparing for a full day of Juneteenth events on Saturday, that begin in Amherst center in the morning and conclude in the Mill District in North Amherst in the evening.

The idea, according to organizers with the Civil War Tablet and Juneteenth Memorial committees, is to have events that uplift African American culture, traditions and community heroes.

For Anika Lopes, who arrived in Amherst from Brooklyn, New York, last year and will have a display of her millnery at Hannah’s Local Art Gallery in the Mill District during the evening, Juneteenth will be a culmination of her advocacy over the past year for having the town’s famed Civil War plaques on display for the first time in more than 25 years.

The 1893 marble tablets, commissioned by the regional chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic Veterans Association, recognize soldiers from Amherst who served in the Union, including African Americans from the 54th Regiment of the Massachusetts 5th Cavalry.

It was around 2000 when her grandfather, Dudley J. Bridges Sr., who died in 2004, sought to have the tablets given a prominent place of honor within the community. Instead, they remained largely in storage, though were refurbished.

“I hope my grandfather feels our commitment to fulfill his wish that the Civil War tablets receive a permanent home, one that is inclusive and fitting of the history they honor, as inspiration behind this event,” Lopes said.

At 11 a.m., people can drop by the Bangs Community Center to view the restored stones.

Juneteenth starts at 10 a.m. at West Cemetery, at the burial places of Christopher, John, Henry, James and Charles Thompson, who served in that 54th Regiment. This tribute to soldiers will include a military salute provided by the Peter Brace Brigade, a Springfield based Civil War reenactor group named for Peter Brace who fought for the Union Army as a member of the first Black regiment raised in the North.

State Rep. Bud Williams of the 11th Hampden District and Denise Jordan, of Springfield’s Housing Authority, will speak along with the master of ceremonies, William Harris, president and CEO of Space Center Houston. Harris is the nephew of Bridges and grandson of Christopher Thompson.

Other participants during the day are local historian Bob Romer, state Sen. Jo Comerford, soulful storyteller Onawumi Jean Moss, University of Massachusetts W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies professor John Bracey and Kamal Ali, an associated professor at Westfield State University.

The afternoon will be a community jubilee on the Town Common, commencing at 12:55 p.m. with African drummers, food vendors representing Black, Indigenous and people of color communities, and the Amherst Area Gospel Choir, with local DJs and a magician.

Finally, the sunset reception will conclude the day at 6 p.m. in the Mill District. This event, with a focus on Black art and culture, will include an artist collective exhibition and fashion show that Lopes is helping organize, crafts, food and cocktail vendors and music by Roddy Rod and Co.

Lopes’ artistry will be the inaugural front window display at Hannah’s Local Art Gallery on Cowls Road.

Hannah Rechtschaffen, director of Placemaking and manager of the gallery, said the aim of the space is to have artists, like Lopes and Richie Richardson, a New York-based fashion designer with a studio in Turners Falls, display their works.

“We’re here to tell their stories and create a hub for them to share their work and send it off to be a part of someone else’s story,” Rechtschaffen said

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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