The weekend of June 19 in Greater Springfield opened with a flurry of activity from different groups and entities, all marking a national commemoration of the practical end of slavery in the United States.
As President Joe Biden signed legislation making June 19 a federal holiday a year ago, the country found itself in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic and unable to officially mark the occasion. This year, after months of vaccinations, reminders and remarkable luck, June 19, 2022 is fully celebrated.
June 19 marks the day, June 19, 1865, when Union troops under the command of Major General Gordon Granger entered Galveston, Texas, the last area to be held back two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
As part of yesterday’s Juneteenth celebration, a section of Wilbraham Road in the Mason Square neighborhood of Springfield was renamed in honor of former State Representative Benjamin Swan, D-Springfield.
“My name is Ben Swan, SWAN, one N. We could only afford one,” joked the longtime lawmaker, now 89.
Despite his self-deprecating humour, Swan was the focus of more than 100 dignitaries, spectators, friends, political allies – and some enemies – and several generations of his family. They gathered in the small Mason Square Black Vietnam Veterans Park.
Ben Swan Way is a section of Wilbraham Road parallel to State Street. It runs between Hawley Street at its western end and Eastern Avenue to the east and is not far from where the Swan had its district officer during the 22 years he served in the Legislative Assembly of State.
Considered by many to be Black Independence Day, Swan said he felt the day was very important overall and to him individually. “It’s an important day,” he said. “I appreciate it immensely.”
Swan was praised for his years of service to Springfield, first as a civil rights activist and then for the 22 years he served in the state House of Representatives.
Although not originally from Springfield, Swan, born in Belzoni, Mississippi, came to Springfield when he was 16 with his family. A veteran of the United States Army, Swan later became a postman with the United States Postal Service. In the 1960s he was active in the civil rights movement and joined the Congress of Racial Equality. He was active in civil rights protests in Springfield and nationwide, working to end segregation.
Mayor Domenic J. Sarno pointed out how ironic the situation seemed given that rather than a man who would become revered by his community, Ben Swan started out as an outcast.
“Just think back to the (19) 60s during the civil rights issues that were unfolding. He never sought accolades for it, but Ben became a civil rights icon. Look where we are now, fast forward since Ben Swan was arrested multiple times on the steps of City Hall with Ray Jordan and others to make it happen, the street, the school (named in his honor). This is what America is,” he said. The mayor explained how the new DeBerry-Swan Elementary School will now also honor the former representative.
State Rep. Bud Williams, D-Springfield, said Swan and his fellow activists were disruptive and sometimes destructive as they fought for civil rights. But, that, Williams said, is what they had to do to be noticed and recognised.
“That’s what they had to do, and they did. And, they did it regularly. Before Barack Obama, before Jesse Jackson, there was Ben Swan. These are his shoulders that we sit on,” Williams said. “Yes, he went to Selma, Alabama, to the Pettus Bridge. He did all of this. He was in prison, but he fought for the people, everyone, and we really appreciate the sacrifice you made,” he said.
Swan was also honored by Rev. Torli Krua of Liberia, who traveled from Boston to deliver a proclamation. Krua said Swan had traveled to Liberia many times and bonded with its people, and fought for Liberia’s Refugee Equity Act to allow Liberian refugees a place in the states. -United.
“He went to my village in Liberia, and he was well received by the people. I stand here today on behalf of the people of the republic of Liberia and the people of my village and thank you for coming,” Krua said. “Thank you for welcoming the refugees who did not live in your district as human beings. I will take this news to the people of the village, the people who gave you a cane and say that we want you back.
Later that day, several hundred people gathered at the Raymond A. Jordan Senior Center in Blunt Park to participate in the Brethren Community Foundation’s June 19 celebration. While the nonprofit organization has celebrated Juneteenth for 20 years, this is the first year it has been a federal holiday. It was also the first year without Jordan, who had been a founding member of the organization. He died in February.
The Brethren is a non-profit organization made up of black businesspeople, mentors and influencers working to improve the quality of life in Greater Springfield.
In honor of Jordan’s memory, the 2022 celebration included a tribute to the former state representative, including a video presentation and a poem by local poet DMoss.
Jordan’s daughter, Denise Jordan, presented two college youth awards given in her father’s name. The awards were presented to Tayvion Griffin and Ivory Johnson, two recent Renaissance School graduates.
Later in the day, Springfield’s Jubilee Block Party kicked off around 4 p.m. in Court Square with live music, food from area restaurants and caterers called Taste of Dine Black, and arts, crafts, and entertainment. crafts and clothing from local black-owned businesses.
Jessenia Ortiz showed her acrylic resin art in all shapes and sizes, from fantastical sculptures to down-to-earth products with a special flair.
“Self by Nikai” is a West Springfield makeup and skincare company that offers all handmade products. Nikai Fondon said she does the preparations herself and can design the right product for a client’s skin type. She makes her products available in sample packs designed to be given as party favors.
Bridgette Kilpatrick calls herself a “traveling caterer”. She lives in Maryland but has family in Springfield, so she spends time here. His company, Rasta Pasta, offers culinary specialties.