Juneteenth, 2022 ~ Bedford, Massachusetts

 

Observing Juneteenth 2022 on Bedford Common ~ Image JMcCT (c) 2022 all rights reserved ~ Click to view full-sized image

~ Submitted by Mark David Bailey

Dozens of residents of all ages gathered on the Common to honor Juneteenth in a celebration hosted by Side with Black Lives Bedford, in solidarity with Parents Diversity Council (PDC), and Bedford Embraces Diversity (BED).

Attendees enjoyed strawberry soda, tea cakes, lawn games, and children’s books. Sharon McDonald described Bedford’s history of enslaved residents of color with an interactive exhibit highlighting the names of 35 Black residents.

While some children continued to play, participants gathered in a circle to hear a grounding exercise led by Mark Bailey, an invocation by Rev. Wendy Bell, a land acknowledgment by Heather Leavell, and poems read by Kelly Korenak and Mark Bailey.

Mark Bailey, one of the organizers, said, “This is a time of celebration and hope. Recently Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, participating in the rededication of the Shaw memorial in Boston, called the memorial is a testament to the fact that we did the impossible—abolished slavery, and described it also a testament to the fact that we can do the impossible again—abolish racism. It felt good to gather, celebrate the progress we’ve made and rededicate ourselves to building a more just and sustainable future with our children, who represent our best hope.”

Bedford’s Town Historian Sharon McDonald spoke briefly about the earliest known history of Black residents in Bedford.

Dean Groves led the group in singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” with viola accompaniment by Carlough Faulkner-Carroll.

As the bells at First Parish tolled 35 times in honor of the 35 Black residents who were identified by McDonald, residents carrying flowers walked in a procession to the African memorial at the old burying ground. There was another poem and song, a reading, and a meditation.

While the observance of Juneteenth is well established in America among people of color, it has only recently become part of a wider awareness of the role played in American history by people of non-European descent, most of whom did not come here out of choice. Town Historian and First Parish member McDonald has searched Town records for the names and details of Bedford residents of color, but the historical record has only provided the names of a few of them.

At the African Reservation ~ Image JMcCT (c) 2022 all rights reserved ~ Click to view full-sized image

The African Reservation in the Old Burying Ground on Springs Road was set aside for their burial, but the only surviving marker is for the three who served as soldiers in the American Revolution. This grave is decorated on Veterans Day and Memorial Day, and in 1976 local resident Irene Parker wrote a short poem in their honor. However deserved these acts of remembrance, they leave in shadow the lives of persons of color in Bedford for whom manumission through military service was not an option.

These residents of color labored in Bedford’s homes and fields; helped to build its civic fabric; and left behind a legacy we now, belatedly, honor. Juneteenth is a fitting occasion upon which to remember them. For the past few years, it has been the custom at First Parish to take flowers to the African Reservation on Juneteenth, and we welcome the participation of all Bedford residents in this ritual of thanks.

Ode to Moore, Prescott, and Jones

In the Revolutionary Battle of seventeen seventy-five
Caesar Jones, Caesar Prescott, and Cambridge Moore were alive
Fighting for freedom, respect, and honor
Proud Black men who gave their lives with valor.

We know little of Moore, Prescott, and Jones
Their history and lives are interred with their bones
To remember them today is a small token of love
For men who have died and gone home above.

~ Irene P. Parker ~ January 27, 1976

After the ceremony, Kindness Rocks that attendees of all ages had crafted earlier in the afternoon were brought to the Old Burying Ground.

A wreath was hung on the plaque in the sanctuary at First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church to remember Nanne, an African woman enslaved by Rev. Nicholas Bowes, the church’s first minister. Click this link to read the full text of Sharon Lawrence McDonald’s remarks about Nanne.

Faces in the Crowd


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