Sunday, July 21, 2024

Krystal Ray sings “Lift Every Voice and Sing” on Monday during Cambridge’s Juneteenth event at Riverside Press Park. (Photo: Alex Bowers)

Juneteenth celebrations drew hundreds in Cambridge on Monday, beginning with a freedom parade that began at City Hall at 10 a.m. and wound its way through the city to Blackstone Street, where marchers and families gathered in Riverside Press Park to celebrate with speakers, performers, vendors and civic groups.

The celebrations at city hall began with observations by city councillor E. Denise Simmons, Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui and City Manager Yi-An Huang, standing below three flags: the American flag of stars and stripes, the black and white flag of prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action, and the Juneteenth flag, a single star encircled by a novalike burst on a ground of red and blue.

The day marks the announcement to enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, in 1865 that they’d already been freed. It became a state holiday in 2021.

“It marks the end of the darkest and most shameful period in our history, when slavery was practiced,” said Simmons, adding while overt slavery is in the past, the underpinnings of exclusion remain.

“This day serves as a powerful reminder of the resilience of the human spirit, the unwavering courage and enduring fight for justice and equality,” Simmons said. “As we raised this flag today, what it symbolizes is not just the end of brutal period of repression and oppression, but also the beginning of a journey – a journey toward true equality that we are still navigating today.”

“We must continually strive to build a society where all citizens, regardless of their race and ethnicity, are true equals and are free,” Simmons said.

Juneteenth calls upon us to “address the systematic inequalities that remain in our society, and unites us in a journey toward a future where the principles of freedom, liberation and respect are embraced by all,” said Siddiqui, encouraging the community to learn from Cambridge’s “vibrant and creative black culture.”

Huang said he felt the importance that the black struggle for freedom and equality in his own life.

“Juneteenth is a holiday for all Americans, and I feel it in in even my history,” he said. “My parents were immigrants. They didn’t talk much about their lives, but a lot of my life opportunities that I’ve been able to take advantage are built upon the struggle of the black community, the people that have come before me.”

Other officials who attended events included councillor Patti Nolan, School Committee members Caroline Hunter, David Weinstein, Rachel Weinstein (no relation) and Ayesha Wilson; and state Rep. Steve Owens.

Voices in song and essay

There were plenty of music and performances, with the parade led by the Cambridge Youth Steel Orchestra, a Cambridge Carnival International program that teaches children ages 8 through 11 the history and art of Caribbean steel pan instrumentation.

In Riverside Park, singer Krystal Ray drew onlookers to join her in the hymn “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a song celebrating faith and freedom and widely known as the black national anthem. The soundtrack of the event was provided by DJ Eddie Cruz of Cruzbridge Entertainment with performances by the Cambridge Rindge and Latin Step club and the Step into Culture Dance group.

Isadora Inocente and Evelyn Bowers-Liu, seventh-graders at the Putnam Avenue Upper School, were winners of a district-wide essay contest sponsored by the Mayor’s office and the Cambridge Families of Color Coalition.

Cambridge students ages 6 through 12 had been asked to “explore the personal and societal significance of Juneteenth,” how it has “shaped their understanding of freedom and equality and its relevance in today’s world” and to explore the themes of perseverance, cultural heritage and social justice.

Civics and sales

Cambridge’s Paragon Society set up an information and demonstration table to showcase CPR techniques. (Photo: Alex Bowers)

Monday’s events were sponsored by the CFCC, the Paragon Society and the City of Cambridge.

Local civic organizations that participated included the Paragon Society of diversity-minded firefighters, which set up an information and demonstration table to showcase CPR techniques; members of Chi Eta Zeta, the Cambridge chapter of the Zeta Phi Beta sorority, which marched and joined the crowd; and the Cambridge Young Women’s Christian Association/YWCA, which focuses on eliminating racism and empowering women and had a table stocked with children’s books and young-adult novels free for the taking.

The city promoted its Rise Up Cambridge program, which provides financial assistance – $500 per month for 18 months – to families earning at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty level.

Entrepreneurs on Blackstone Street included Zavier Dunbar of Universole and Khai Smith of Gal1ery shoes, who usually sell on Instagram, set up at tables with sneakers and clothing; Natural Vanities, a woman-owned Boston-based start-up, displayed soaps and candles. A Moyzilla food truck provided Asian street food.

Commemorating first black fire chief

This year’s parade commemorated Patrick Henry Raymond, the city’s first African American fire chief. He was appointed in 1871.

The Raymond family lived in the “lower port,” the city’s first African American neighborhood, with Patrick Raymond later buying a home at 10 Pleasant St., in Riverside near Central Square. Raymond served in the U.S. Navy during the Civil War and became editor of the weekly Cambridge Press in 1869, according to the African American Fire Fighters Historical Society.

Raymond had led the department for roughly a year when he commanded its forces during Boston’s Great Fire of 1872, when a large area of downtown burned to the ground. Raymond advocated stronger fire prevention codes, increasing the number of fire companies and company strength and establishing a fully paid, permanent department, according to the society.

He served as chief until 1878, was elected corresponding secretary of the National Association of Fire Engineers in 1873 and helped establish the Veterans Fireman’s Association of Cambridge, for which he served for several years as its president.  After a long illness, Raymond died July 28, 1892, at the Cambridge Hospital, and was buried in the soldiers’ lot at the Cambridge Cemetery. 

The Patrick H. Raymond Engine Co. No. 5 and Cambridge Fire’s Marine Unit 1, “a custom-built, welded aluminum fire/rescue boat,” are named in his honor.