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Montgomery Township's Inaugural Juneteenth Celebration

By Rikki Massand | June 23, 2022

A premier Montgomery Township historic site, the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum (SSAAM) on Hollow Road, held its first Juneteenth event and treated the public and distinguished guests to live music, entertainment, and barbecue food on Saturday, June 18.

Montgomery area residents gathered for the township's first Juneteenth event held on Saturday.

SSAAM’s Executive Director Donnetta Johnson invited vocal students from the Allegra School of Music & Art in Hillsborough, and a lineup of performances and dance music ensued. One student read an inspirational letter to her future self, marking the occasion of Juneteenth and reflecting on Black American history.

SSAAM co-founders Elaine Buck and Beverly Mills explained the history of why Juneteenth, now an official state holiday, was initially commemorated in the Black community: June-Teenth is a combination of June and the 19th of the month.

On June 19, 1865, U.S. Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger issued General Order 3. This document informed the last enslaved Africans in this country that they were free. This moment, not the Emancipation Proclamation issued January 1, 1863, which happened two years prior to this moment, marks the official end of “slavery” in the U.S. When this order was read, the newly emancipated people broke out in spontaneous celebration.

Elaine Buck (right) is a founder the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum on Hollow Road in Montgomery Township. She is pictured here at the museum's Juneteenth event.

The keynote speaker for SSAAM’s Juneteenth event was Rosetta Treece, PhD, superintendent of schools for the Hopewell Valley Regional School District. She shared her mixed feelings about the commemoration of Juneteenth – telling the audience it can “represent a legacy of this country not acknowledging her true history” – and later announced that the Hopewell school district has adopted units of study about enslaved Africans in the Sourlands and other nearby parts of central New Jersey into the district’s social studies curriculum. To do so, the school worked with Elaine Buck and Beverly Mills.

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Treece inspired those assembled at SSAAM to “embrace not just our triumph, but to acknowledge those times when we fell very short of the ideals of our democracy and to learn from it.”

“I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you, the members of our community and our neighbors – I stand here prepared to move this country toward the real freedom and democracy that we proclaim. So let’s celebrate as we are at the beginning of a new journey in this country.

“We are once again at the crossroads. We can turn back or take an easier path as we have done in the past when things got a little too hard or we can do what the true patriots in this country did and charge ahead.

“The road forward and our future is right there in front of us. Let’s not get distracted or discouraged by a handful of rocks and pebbles along the way,” Treece said.

She also presented the audience with the text of General Order 3:

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor….The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

Treece noted, “Juneteenth is deeply embedded in the culture of the Galvin, Texas community and is now spreading across our country, after a reckoning and recognition that there was a need for change.”

Guests at the Montgomery Township event included former Montgomery mayor and current NJ Assembly Member Sadaf Jaffer, Township Deputy Mayor Shelly Bell, Somerset County Commissioner Board Deputy Director Melonie Marano; County Commissioner Paul Drake; Somerset County Planning and Economic Development Director Walter C. Lane; Flemington Borough Council member Tony Parker; Somerset County Cultural & Heritage Commission Chair Rory Britt; C &H Advisory Committee Member Sean Blinn, and from Montgomery Township School District, principal of the Village Elementary School Susan Lacey.

Members of the Montgomery Landmarks Preservation Commission as well as the Open Space Committee, including Chairperson Clem Fiori, Bruce Daniels, and Kevin Burkman, also attended the event. Daniels and Burkman are also SSAAM board members).

Griggstown resident Jacqueline Carrera Fay, a former corporate manager and entrepreneur, was named as the newest member of SSAAM’s board. Fay is an alumna of Rutgers University, where she majored in communications and earned a minor in Women’s Studies. Fay, who is of Cuban heritage, was recently hired as chief of staff for NJ Assembly Member Anthony Verrelli (District 15).

Visitors also viewed the work of Rob Flory, from Howell Living History Farm, who helped restore the museum gardens. ■


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