Albert J. Countryman Jr./The Sun
Certificates of Congressional Recognition went to members of the Palmyra, Riverton, Cinnaminson Juneteenth Celebration Committee: Wanda Swanson (left to right), Kaurice Hunt, Michael Hunt, Kim Robinson, Shelja Touri and Michelle Ray.

General Gordon Granger and 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, on June 19, 1865 with some big news for 250,000 people throughout the state laboring in cotton fields under the hot sun, preparing meals at the big house or tending to the horses.

They were free.

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After a brutal lifetime of slavery that stretched back three and four generations of their families, the men and women could finally breathe the exhilarating air of freedom. Families could no longer be separated by their owners, who considered the slaves as property. They were now free to own land, search for lost relatives and run for office.

On a hot, sunny June 19, hundreds gathered in Riverton Memorial Park to commemorate Freedom Day at the fifth annual Juneteenth event sponsored by the Palmyra, Riverton, Cinnaminson Celebration Committee (JPRCCC).

“The turnout is wonderful,” said Tarin Jefferson, community health director for the Southern Burlington County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She was at a booth with branch president Tyrus Ballard.

“It’s great to see everybody out here,” she said. “There is great energy in this beautiful park.”

“It feels good to see everyone coming together,” noted Kendall Jefferson of the Diversity & Equal Opportunity Network (DEON), who praised the event’s organizers.

More than 60 vendors and several food trucks lined up in left field at the Babe Ruth baseball field, “alongside educational displays curated by the JPRCCC and DEON that delve into the historical essence of Juneteenth and its relevance today,” said Shelja Touri, who is part of both groups.

Committee member Kaurice Hunt organized the free activities for youngsters, including pony rides, face painting, crafts and a bounce house. They also played on the basketball courts, tennis courts and playground.

DEON youth program director Jada Solorzano said, “I think this is great. It’s hot, but it’s a great turnout and there’s lots of vendors. I never learned about Juneteenth in school, but I am glad they teach it now.”

To kick off the celebration, Julianna Heck and Jerome Townsend, aides to Congressman Andy Kim, presented Certificates of Congressional Recognition to the JPRCCC members, including Touri, Hunt, Wanda Swanson, Kim Robinson, Michael Hunt and Michelle Ray.

“The event continues to collaborate with the boroughs of Palmyra, Riverton, and Cinnaminson,” observed Touri, adding “it is rich with cultural heritage and community spirit.”

“I am pleased with everything that has occurred,” said Riverton Mayor Jim Quinn, who is proud of his community’s partnership with the neighboring towns and the fact that Juneteenth became a federal holiday three years ago.

“The towns work together well,” said former mayor Suzanne Cairns Wells, who helped to organize Riverton’s first celebration five years ago. “Everyone is super helpful. Juneteenth definitely needed to be recognized as a holiday.”

“Our first celebration was in 2021, and then I suggested that all the towns do it together,” Palmyra Mayor Gina Ragomo Tait recalled, adding she was amazed how big this year’s event was and how it has grown each year.

“The cooperation between the towns is awesome.”

It was a day to remember how the bitter taste of slavery became the delicious taste of freedom 159 years ago when Granger read and posted the Emancipation Proclamation in Galveston – giving hope and the promise of a better life to thousands of Texans.

For information about next year’s celebration, go to www.prcjuneteenth.org.