“Juneteenth” Fair Celebrates Modern-Day Freedom

Hailey Fuchs PhotoDescendants of New Haven’s 29th Colored Regiment gathered Saturday in Criscuolo Park, the land where the soldiers once trained for the Civil War.

The descendants gathered to host a fair for Juneteenth, a commemoration of the day in 1876 when soldiers told the remaining 250,000 slaves in Texas that they were free, two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

At the event, New Haven businesses and not-for-profits including Hands on Moving, the Kiyama Movement, and the Work Force Alliance ran booths to promote their missions, as did the New Haven Police Department, which is recruiting new officers from the community. Visitors Rperused as a DJ played tunes and Waterbury’s Berkeley Knights Drill Team and Drum Corps performed.

According to Kelly Mero, president of the Descendants of Connecticut’s 29th Colored Regiment, the event sought to celebrate the idea of “modern day freedom.” To Mero, this means financial literacy, responsibility, education, employment, diversity, opportunity, and (health) maintenance — an acrostic of the word freedom itself.

The fair marked the revival of the Descendants of the Connecticut 29th Colored Regiment, which had remained dormant since the group unveiled a monument to their ancestors nine years ago. The black granite stelae, arranged in a circle with an image of two soldiers and a history of the regiment in the center, bear the names of Connecticut’s Civil War Veterans.

Mero, inspired by her late father, who was a founding member and president of the Descendants group, reestablished the regiment to maintain his legacy. The group has seven members. Mero shared plans to expand and celebrate all facets of “modern freedom” in the 2017-2018 year including a “black untied” event focused on educational advancement. In a year, she hopes fundraising efforts can provide a scholarship for New Haven students.

Cherisa Lloyd was at the event to spread awareness about autism, a condition she said is prevalent in urban communities. After her son was diagnosed at 18 months, she started her not-for-profit Leandre’s World to provide support for other families with autistic chidlren. She noted that blacks and Latinos especially tend to fear stigma about autism and remain silent on the issue. One parent at her support group expressed hesitance to tell her family in fear of relatives treating her child differently, for instance, she said.

At a nearby booth, Warren Barnett, whose great-great-great-grandfather fought in the Civil War, shared the history of the 29th Regiment. Frederick Douglas actually spoke to the soldiers on that very plot of land centuries ago, he said.

Hailey Fuchs PhotoA few paces away from the memorial, members of the 54th Colored Regiment dressed in military attire sat beside a historical replica of a soldiers’ tent. Ronald Jeffrey Brace Senior recalled how his great-great-uncle Peter Brace fought in the Civil War. John Franklin, another volunteer, underscored the importance of teaching younger generations about their history.

Solomon Maye from the Elephant in the Room Boxing Club and Xavier Richardson from Hands on Moving agreed that few people know about Juneteenth in the first place.

“You had slaves who really weren’t free,” Maye noted.

“We’ll see a lot of history books, but you won’t see black history books,” Maye said. “You might see pamphlets during February,” Black History Month, but not much more.

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