On June 19, the Lehigh Valley celebrated an exuberant Juneteenth, recently named a federal holiday, with Dr. Karen Britt, business and economics professor at Northampton Community College (NCC), as the event’s organizer. Juneteenth marks the day, June 19, 1865, two months after the Civil War had ended, that federal troops marched into Galveston, Texas, the most remote part of the Confederacy, to announce that enslaved people were free.
The Lehigh Valley Juneteenth Committee, which included individuals from Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton, took a year of planning. Britt casted the vision, and committee members took that vision into their specific areas of coordination.
Three thousand and two hundred patrons attended the celebration, which included:
- An opening ceremony, with the National Anthem and the Black National Anthem sung by Olivia Britt and addresses by Bethlehem Mayor Robert Donchez, Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure, Easton Mayor Sal Panto, Lehigh County Executive Phil Armstrong, and Pennsylvania Representative Robert Freeman;
- Four musical bands performing reggae,soul, R&B, and jazz;
- A theatrical production about Juneteenth at the Levitt Pavilion;
- A Juneteenth film loop, with panel discussions in the Red Cinema, preceded by a film session;
- A fine arts display in the PBS (Public Broadcasting) Building;
- Historical menu tasting in the PBS Building;
- For children, a magician, BIA Dancers, Omega Psi Phi Step Team, Hula Hoop contest and double-dutch jump robe contest, concessions, a Juneteenth coloring book developed by local artist, Jackie Lima and presented by the Lehigh Valley Charter School of the Arts Black Student Union.
Local food trucks, food vendors such as the mobile barbecue pit Taste Smokers, and thirty local product vendors and information vendors (including area colleges and universities) were also on hand.
Pastor Phil Davis, of the Greater Shiloh Church, and Shawn Harvey, local radio announcer, gave live broadcasts from the PBS/WLVT studios.
Other NCC organizers and participants included Brian Alnutt, professor of history, Devyn Briggs, career specialist, Sol Levy, professor of history, Melenese Sivells, associate professor of early childhood education, and Tracie Springer, academic advisor. Fran Boshell of Student Life ran an NCC information table at the event.
Britt notes that the Lehigh Valley celebration was planned long before and without the knowledge that a federal holiday would be proclaimed. “It was divine providence,” she says.