By JOHN T. WARD
The hike on a humid last day of spring was bookended by gatherings at Pilgrim Baptist Church on Shrewsbury Avenue and the T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center on Drs. James Parker Boulevard.
T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center president Walter Greason, with director Gilda Rogers, addresses the gathering. Below, Denzel Donaldson speaking at Pilgrim Baptist Church. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)
At the church, minister Denzel Donaldson told the several dozen attendees that Juneteenth has been called Jubilation Day, Liberation Day and Freedom Day, marking the day in 1865 on which enslaved people in Texas finally learned that they had been freed by President Abraham Lincoln two years earlier.
“It is a day of freedom,” said Donaldson, “as people who remember the bitterness of enslaved persons who were liberated and freed by the Emancipation Proclamation.”
Also at the church, Mayor Pasquale Menna pointed to South Africa, with its truth and reconciliation effort to address the wrongs of apartheid, as a model for America in facing its past as a slaveholding country. Jeff Boga, a music teacher at Red Bank Regional High School, offered a stirring rendition of “God Bless America” on violin.
Participants then marched passed well-wishers on Shrewsbury Avenue and the weekly fish fry in the parking lot of the Celestial Lodge on Parker Boulevard enroute to the Fortune center.
There, on the front lawn, center president Walter Greason reflected on the purchase of the house, in 1901, by the civil rights activist and journalist for whom it is named.
The deal occurred, Greason noted, at a time when “race covenants” prevented White property owners from selling to Black buyers.
“Fortune is one of these pioneers who broke that barrier,” Greason said, “and turned the west side of Red Bank into a center where immigrants and African-Americans could start to achieve a new level of freedom, to build new businesses, to build all the churches you see in these communities.”
Greason told the audience that the “core mission” of both the center and Juneteenth was “to preserve our families, preserve our connections and to grow them going forward.”
Those present had an opportunity to view display of fabrics and prints from across Africa inside the center.
Borough resident Barbara Powell told redbankgreen she was “happy and excited” that the holiday drawn people “with no animosity, to do what God has us to do, which is to stay together.
“I think we still have a ways to go, but this is a good start, to have this as a holiday” she said.