Central New Jersey’s only black history museum hosted its first June 19 celebration
The Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum — the only black history museum in central New Jersey — held its first June 19 celebration.
The family event, “Freedom Forward,” was held June 18 at Mt. Zion AME Church in Skillman, which is listed on the National Historic Register, and the adjacent True Farmstead, an historic property owned by Afro-Americans. Americans recently purchased. by the Stoutsburg Sourland African American (SSAAM) and the Sourland Conservancy.
The event featured live music from the Jonathan Ware Quartet, food from Trenton BBQ restaurant “The Big Easy”, artist talks, theatrical performances, children’s activities and inspirational speakers and community leaders celebrating the African-American resilience and freedom.
Art workshops were held at True Farmstead. Princeton artists, activists and educators Judith Brodsky and Rhinold Ponder presented “Black Artists: Elevating the Community,” a talk about five black artists who lived in and around the Sourlands 50 years ago. These artists believed that art was for everyone and could improve the quality of life for individuals in the community.
Immediately following the presentation, Emmy-winning artist and educator Dr. Ronah Harris gave community members a chance to create their own art. She guided visitors through the art of quilt making as an artistic and storytelling tradition in the African American community.
Visitors had the opportunity to create quilt squares representing their own culture, the future and social justice. The squares will be incorporated into SSAAM’s first community quilt, depicting the beautiful mosaic of people in the Sourlands region.
Actors from the Allegra School of Music and Arts performed “To Be Free,” an original June 19 performance written by playwright Ryan Kilpatrick. The inspiring piece offers a heartfelt take on the new American holiday and the historical events surrounding its origin story, as well as the collective responsibility to shape a more just and equitable shared future.
Educational offerings at the event included a talk by Isabella Ruiter, an undergraduate student at Rutgers University, who recently traveled to Benin for a study abroad program. Ruiter discussed his travels as well as the history of Africans’ transatlantic contributions to African American culture in the United States.
“Freedom Forward” was co-sponsored by the Princeton University Art Museum.
Juneteenth is a federal holiday in the United States commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. Originating in Galveston, Texas, it has been celebrated annually on June 19 in various parts of the United States since 1865.
However, New Jersey did not fully recognize the celebration of African American culture until 2021. Previously, on September 10, 2020, Governor Phil Murphy signed a law that designates the third Friday in June as a holiday and audience, known as Juneteenth. (short for June Nineteenth) Day.
In 2021, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, which made Juneteenth an official federal holiday.