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Meriden, Wallingford events to celebrate diversity while marking Juneteenth

A host of events celebrating racial, ethnic and religious diversity, as well as marking Juneteenth, the federal holiday that commemorates the emancipation of African Americans, are planned in Meriden and Wallingford this Sunday.

The Meriden-Wallingford NAACP will hold its 22nd Annual Freedom Fund Juneteenth Celebration on the Meriden Green, while the Wallingford 350+2 Jubilee will mark Juneteenth with an observance at Seymour St. John Chapel on the Choate Rosemary Hall campus. The event in Wallingford will be followed by the opening of an exhibit at the historical society chronicling the history of slavery in town and the dedication of three Witness Stones honoring Black residents who were enslaved.

Sunday evening, the Spanish Community of Wallingford will host International Night in conjunction with the Jubilee.

Meriden Green

The Meriden-Wallingford NAACP Freedom Fund Juneteenth Celebration on the Meriden Green is scheduled from 3 to 6 p.m. Sunday and will feature music, speeches, food, vendor tables and a fashion show. Tickets are $25 to attend.

Nickimmy Hayes, one of the vice presidents of the Meriden-Wallingford NAACP, said the event will recognize community award winners as part of the NAACP Freedom Fund and scholarship recipients, while also acknowledging Juneteenth. 

“Doing it on Juneteenth we thought it was important to give the information and word out, what is Juneteenth?” Hayes said. “Until a couple years ago, people didn’t even know about Juneteenth and the significance of what that meant for Black people from down South.” 

Lorraine Winston, the other vice president, said she hopes people will feel a sense of unity at the event.

“It’s an event that we can bring anyone together as far as us having the vendors we’re going to have,” Winston said. “We’re going to have an African fashion show and spoken words, so it’s just a good day for families and people of all races to just come together and unite.”

In the past, Hayes said the event was held in collaboration with the Wallingford community, but this year Juneteenth is being observed in conjunction with the town’s 350th+2 Jubilee.

Jubilee observance

Starting at 1 p.m. in Wallingford is an All-Faiths Service and Juneteenth Observance at Seymour St. John Chapel on the Choate campus. 

The Rev. Aaron Rathbun, director of spiritual life at Choate Rosemary Hall, will be leading the service. 

“Our service will start with an opportunity to join in song together with the historic hymn ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing,’ which has come to have an especially revered status in the Black community,” Rathbun said. “Our textual readings and address are on the central theme of ‘freedom,’ honoring the historic emancipation of enslaved African Americans that Juneteenth celebrates. And finally, we'll have shared prayer together looking ahead for peace and justice throughout the world, and a closing song.” 

Clergy from various religious denominations will be reading from holy texts, singing songs and saying prayers.

“We live in a community that does value faith,” said Jerry Farrell, president of the Wallingford Historic Preservation Trust. 

Rathbun said this ceremony gives the participants the chance to see how various religious communities can come together to “love” each other. 

“It's an opportunity to see how the historic traditions and holy texts that we inherit blossom forth into themes that we see in Juneteenth, as well as an opportunity to see how even across diverse traditions, denominations and faiths, we still have shared unity in our pursuit of the common good and loving our neighbor,” Rathbun said. “I hope it's also an opportunity for folks to reflect on their own lives, and how they can participate in this shared vision together.” 

Slavery project

At 3 p.m., the historical exhibit “Enslaved Wallingford” is scheduled to open at the Nehemiah Royce House, 538 N. Main St.

Farrell said the exhibit will share research about enslaved Black Americans in Wallingford between 1704 and 1840. 

At 3:30, there will be the dedication of the first Witness Stone for a man known as Dick Freedom, who was kidnapped in Africa and brought to Wallingford to be a slave for the Royce family. 

He “fought in the American Revolution, gained his freedom and we have several artifacts from his life,” Farrell said. 

At 4:30 p.m, Farrell said they will dedicate two more Witness Stones at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church for Esau and Grace, who were enslaved by the Brockett family. 

“It’s a pretty extensive celebration of Juneteenth from a prayer service to a history exhibit to Witness Stones so I think it’s sort of unique,” Farrell said. 

International Night

As a way to recognize the diversity of Wallingford, Sunday’s celebration will end with International Night, which will take place at the Spanish Community of Wallingford, 284 Washington St. 

The event is organized by the Jubilee’s Descendants Committee and sponsored by the Wallingford Historical Society. 

“With International Night on Sunday as well, leading into History Day, thinking through all of the diversity and all of the waves of change that has happened since our founding, it just shows you that we’re never stopped,” said Christine Mansfield, co-chair of the Jubilee. “We have an ongoing welcome mat out from Wallingford for people to come to our town.”

Bob Beaumont, chairman of the Descendants Committee, said the event will include Italian, Colombian, Ecuadorian, Mexican, Hungarian and Polish cuisines. For entertainment, there will be Mariachis, Mexican folklore dances, Polish and Chinese representation. Obstacle courses will be available for children to enjoy.

Parking will be available at the South side of the Wallingford Senior Center and shuttles will be provided for people who park at the Polish National Alliance Park at 171 North Plains Industrial Road.

Beaumont added that this is the first time an event like this will be a part of the Jubilee. Mansfield said the events are designed to be inclusive.

“I think it is really exciting and (organized) thoughtfully,” Mansfield said. “... There’s something for everybody here.”


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