Stoutsburg Sourland to hold second Juneteenth celebration

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The celebration, themed “Freedom Forward,” will examine “what freedom looks like today and what it will look like tomorrow”

The Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum (SSAAM) will hold its second annual Juneteenth celebration, “Freedom Forward,” on Saturday, June 17 from noon to 4 p.m.

The celebration is open to all and aims to educate, celebrate, and promote unity within the community. As Central Jersey’s only African American history museum, SSAAM is dedicated to sharing the unchronicled stories of African Americans and the historical significance of the Sourland Mountains.

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Donnetta Johnson, the executive director of SSAAM, shed light on the inspiration behind “Freedom Forward.”

“Aside from telling the important stories of African American history, our other key focus is exploring what’s next for America,” Johnson said. “We want to examine what freedom looks like today and what it will look like tomorrow, and how members of our community can participate in that process.”

The venue of the location, the National historic-registered Mt. Zion AME church and adjacent True Farmstead, holds historical value as historically African American-owned land. Originally owned by Harry Reasoner, a Black Civil War veteran, the farmstead is believed to have been a place where Juneteenth was first celebrated in 1865.

“I can’t help but appreciate the importance of having the opportunity to recognize and honor the suffering, sacrifice, and triumph of those enslaved African men, women, and children whose skills, expertise, and labor was instrumental in building the wealth of this region and indeed this country,” Johnson said, noting in early 1800, there were 13,000 enslaved people in New Jersey.

“It is outstanding that we get to celebrate Jubilee or Juneteenth, a day commemorating freedom, on the very grounds where the Reasoner family most certainly appreciated what it meant to be free from bondage and African American landowners in the Sourland region.”

Sponsored by the Princeton University Art Museum, Montgomery Township, Bloomberg Corporation, and Genmab, among others, the event will feature performances by the Jon Ware Quintet, a youth rock band from the Allegra School of Music and Arts, and opera singer Dr. Sonya Headlam. The event will also showcase an original play, written by Ryan Kilpatrick and performed by youth actors from the Allegra School of Music and Arts, as well as poetry readings by Olivia Altiidor, a talented poet from Hillsborough High School.

“Freedom Forward” will also offer enriching workshops and exhibits. Participants can engage in a stone mosaic workshop led by Emmy award-winning educator and artist Dr. Ronah Harris and a family tree heritage workshop guided by the Morven Museum. The Heritage Garden will be open for tours, and visitors can explore the Juneteenth Museum exhibit. Classic African American barbeque will be served from The Big Easy of Trenton, and vegan barbeque options provided by the Mukolee Food Truck.

To ensure the accessibility of the event, free shuttle buses will run every 15 minutes from 11:45 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. from the Montgomery High School parking lot to the venue on Hollow Road in Skillman. Limited parking will be available at the True Farmstead for individuals with mobility limitations, event vendors, and performers.

“To be able to host this event in a historically African American farmstead is just an honor,” Johnson said. “It’s a rare opportunity for our diverse community to unite and celebrate this important American holiday, building the social fabric of our country to move forward as Americans.”

For more information on SSAAM’s Juneteenth “Freedom Forward,” purchasing a vendor table, and acquiring tickets, please visit the official website at https://www.ssaamuseum.org/juneteenth.

Adult general admission is priced at $25 through online pre-sale and $30 at the venue, while tickets for children aged 14 and under are available for $15 pre-sale and $20 at the venue.

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