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On June 19, 1865, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Lincoln, Union soldiers brought the news that the Civil War had ended to Texas, finally freeing enslaved people there.
Today, June 19 is known as Juneteenth and is celebrated as the official end of slavery in the United States. The Bridgehampton Child Care & Recreational Center will host a book fair with Diaspora Books this coming Tuesday to bring awareness to this day.
This is the first time the center will be hosting an event celebrating Juneteenth. Bonnie Cannon, the executive director at the center and a Southampton native, and Carol Spencer, the owner of book distributor Diaspora Books of Sag Harbor, both wish to spread knowledge and awareness of black history as a whole.
“You have Black History Month in February … and somebody once told me that Black History Month shouldn’t just be in February,” Ms. Cannon said.
Ms. Cannon is proud of how the center educates kids on their own culture. “At the center we don’t just study our culture and our history during February, we study it every day,” she said. “One of our goals is to get our community to realize who they are and where they came from.”
She is especially excited about Diaspora Books and Ms. Spencer’s involvement. “What better thing than to have Diaspora Books at the center to teach about African-Americans? It is an educational type of event and a celebration,” she said.
Many Juneteenth celebrations nationally are focused around education and self-improvement, and this event will adhere to that.
“We can celebrate through literacy and reading and learning … it’s not going to be a party, but there’s always going to be a gaining of knowledge,” Ms. Cannon said.
She said she is thrilled about the book fair as an opportunity for everyone to come together and learn about “who we are and why we’re valuable to society.”
Ms. Spencer had the idea for the book fair, contacting her friend Ms. Cannon about the opportunity.
“We’ve always been talking about doing an African-American book event there … I told Bonnie about Juneteeth and she liked the idea,” Ms. Spencer said.
Ms. Spencer started Diaspora Books in her retirement as a passion project. She was a librarian and always had a deep love of books.
Ms. Spencer told the story of a woman who bought a picture book she was selling and gave that book to her sister, a teacher at a school in Brooklyn where most of the students are minorities. She said that the children had never seen themselves in a book before. “I do this because they don’t see themselves in books. It’s not just history books I carry, I also carry books that are just fun, and they feature black children.”
The event will open with Ms. Spencer explaining what Juneteenth is and why it’s important, followed by readings from some of the books for sale.
The books being read from are “All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom” by Angela Johnson, “Freedom’s Gifts: A Juneteenth Story” by Valerie Wesley, “Come Juneteenth” by Ann Rinaldi, and “Juneteenth for Mazie” by Floyd Cooper.
The books were ordered by the John Jermain Memorial Library through Diaspora Books.
A highlight of the book fair will be “Barracoon: The Story of the Last ‘Black Cargo’” by Zora Neale Hurston. This highly anticipated book has been released decades after Hurston tried getting it published, originally rejected because it was an interview written in dialect, not standard English language.
It tells the story of Cudjo Lewis, the last surviving former slave who had made the Middle Passage. He told his story to Hurston when he was 86 years old.
“It’s highlighted because Juneteenth is the official end of slavery … I think that this ties in very nicely with the whole idea and is very exciting,” Ms. Spencer said.
The event is open to both children and adults, though Ms. Cannon is more concerned with quality rather than quantity. “If just one child takes something away, then its a success to me.”
The Juneteenth book fair will run from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Bridgehampton Child Care & Recreation Center on Tuesday, June 19. For more information, call 631-537-0616.
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