Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery across America. Why should Kensington, a small town known for antique shops, take on this holiday? Our theme is “Acknowledging our past and charting our future.” Seeking a better future for his children is what inspired organizer Jamie Boston to approach the Kensington Racial Justice Committee to turn his family’s backyard celebration into a town-wide event.
To the first half of our slogan, Juneteenth is a time to acknowledge the past. While most Americans think that the Emancipation Proclamation freed all enslaved people, in fact it was a political instrument that outlawed slavery only in the rebel states. Slavery in Maryland dragged on until 1864. And as our Racial Justice Committee’s History Project found through state archive records, at least one family was apparently enslaved in Kensington right up until Maryland’s emancipation: the Bazil Brown family. So we observe Juneteenth to acknowledge that slavery was a part of our local history, to commemorate the emancipation of the Brown family, and to honor the lives of unknown others who lived here in bondage.
We also acknowledge that after emancipation, Montgomery County remained deeply segregated, and this was true of neighborhoods in and around Kensington. At least one Klan meeting was held in Kensington (in 1925). Restrictive covenants prevented African Americans from living in certain neighborhoods and acts of racial aggression were aimed at the historically Black community of Ken-Gar. We are also working to understand the contributions of Kensingtonians to the civil rights movement and to acknowledge regional leaders such as Edith Throckmorton, the namesake of a Kensington park, who led the NAACP for 16 years.
To the second half of our slogan, Juneteenth is a time to chart our future. The country remains deeply polarized, but the lens of history has given us the resolve to stand against what has happened recently in our community (e.g., white supremacist graffiti at Walter Johnson High School and the 2020 attack on teenagers posting racial justice signs). We envision a future in which this does not happen, and we observe Juneteenth with the belief that it will take communities like Kensington working together to bring our divided country back together. Our Juneteenth embraces the idea that participating in cultural activities reduces prejudice. On June 18, Kensington will welcome people from all walks of life, value systems and cultural backgrounds to our event. But we must continue to listen, engage, and act.
Juneteenth is also a moment to pause and recognize a huge step toward equality in America. That emancipation happened despite the obstacles gives us hope that the arc of the moral universe may still bend toward the right direction (to paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.). It represents “the triumph of the human spirit over the cruelty of slavery,” as Gov. Larry Hogan said in declaring Juneteenth a state holiday.
Still, as U.S. Rep. Alma Adams of North Carolina, co-sponsor of President Joe Biden’s Juneteenth legislation, remarked, “while I am overjoyed to send this legislation to the president’s desk and make it the law of the land, the work continues.” It is to continue the work that Kensington has brought together a multiracial coalition of organizers, historians, reenactors, civic and faith leaders, Black-owned businesses, musicians, and supporters to proudly mark Juneteenth. We invite every resident of greater Kensington to join us from noon to 4 p.m. June 18 in St. Paul Park. (Our rain date is June 19.) There will be live music, food trucks, a beer and wine garden, historical and educational presentations and family activities. We invite you to celebrate the promise of freedom. In our view, nothing could be more American than that.
Jamie Boston of Kensington is a retired combat veteran and U.S. Army JAG, and the founder of Kensington’s Juneteenth Celebration.
Kenna Barrett of Kensington is a writer, coach, and nonprofit fundraiser and a member of the Kensington Racial Justice Committee.
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