Courtesy of Dominick Recckio/Tompkins County Government

Ithacans gather at the 2023 Juneteenth Celebration.

June 19, 2024

“Freedom Then, Freedom Now”: Ithaca Celebrates Juneteenth

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Amid vibrant art and cultural exchange, Ithacans can connect through shared experiences and active listening at the city’s annual Juneteenth celebration on Wednesday, June 19. Themed “Freedom Then, Freedom Now,” this year’s community celebration highlights the achievements and ongoing efforts of Black Americans in pursuit of freedom since the first Juneteenth celebration in 1865. 

Free to the community and hosted by Southside Community Center along with Tompkins County, the City of Ithaca, Business Leaders of Colors and the Community Foundation of Tompkins County, this event is open to all ages. This day will feature a Black Business Expo, a historical reenactment of the first Juneteenth Celebration in 1865, a community lunch, a tour of Southside Community Center, a keynote address from Daquetta Jones — the chief executive officer of domestic violence support organization Vera House — and an open mic night at The Downstairs. 

Excluding open mic at The Downstairs, the events will take place at Southside Community Center at 305 South Plain St., Ithaca. The Downstairs is located at 121 Martin Luther King St., Ithaca. 

The full schedule of events is as follows: 

  • 11 a.m. – 3 p.m., Black Business Expo
  • 11:15 – 11:45 a.m., Historical Re-enactment of the First Juneteenth Celebration in 1865 by a Rochester-based group
  • 11:45 a.m. – Noon, Discussion Tables Related to Re-enactment
  • Noon – 12:25 p.m., Keynote Speaker, Daquetta Jones, CEO, Vera House
  • Noon – 3 p.m., Community Meal
  • 1 p.m., Southside Community Center Tour
  • 7 p.m., Juneteenth Jubilee at the Downstairs

Additionally this upcoming Saturday the Southside Community Center will also host a festival from Noon to 5 p.m. with food, children’s activities, live music, vendors and raffles featuring prizes from local businesses. This is an annual event that aims to foster education, achievement and community within Ithaca. 

Juneteenth is a celebration that honors the end of slavery in the United States in 1865. Declared a national holiday in 2021, Juneteenth honors Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger ordering the final enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation — which decreed the end of slavery — at the end of the Civil War on June 19, 1865.

Ithaca’s various Juneteenth events are primarily hosted by Southside Community Cente, a local organization that, according to its website, “work[s] to affirm, empower and foster the development of self-pride among the Black American residents of Greater Ithaca.” 

An opportunity to tour the building and meet the board and staff is available will occur at 1 p.m. on Wednesday.

In addition to the Juneteenth celebration, Southside Community Center has contributed to various programs in the recent weeks leading up to Juneteenth. One of these such programs is Black Girl Alchemy, which empowers young Black girls by emphasizing their voices and creativity within the Ithaca community. This program recently collaborated with local artists to unveil a community healing mural in downtown Ithaca. 

“Through forums and activities in education, recreation, political and social awareness, the Southside Community Center is a community resource center,” Southside Community Center’s website states. “We serve as a vehicle to develop an appreciation for the contributions and presence of those peoples of African descent in the greater Ithaca community and in the larger world community.”

Dr. Kenneth Clarke, Director of the Tompkins County Office of Human Rights spoke on the evolving nature and significance of Juneteenth throughout the years. 

“One of the perennial questions with which African Americans — and the nation itself — have grappled is what the meaning of freedom [is],” Clarke said. “What did it mean on the first Juneteenth in 1865? What does it mean in 2024, in a political and cultural climate of increasing polarization, misinformation and dissension? Juneteenth can provide some perspective on the nature of freedom.”

Dorothy France-Miller is a reporter from The Cornell Daily Sun working on The Sun’s summer fellowship at The Ithaca Times. This piece was originally published in The Ithaca Times.