Published in The Day

By Johana Vazquez

Mystic— A West African drum call invited guests at Mystic Seaport Museum on Sunday to its third Juneteenth celebration in partnership with Discovering Amistad.

Juneteenth, established as a federal holiday last year, commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. It marks the anniversary of the announcement by Union Army General Gordon Granger on June 19, 1865 that proclaimed freedom to enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, the last to receive the news that President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier.

Paula Mann-Agnew, executive director of Discovering Amistad, said every year the event in Mystic gets larger and more in-depth, gathering partners such as Chelsea Groton Bank and the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, and attracts more visitors.

"Ever since Juneteenth became a federal holiday, people want to get involved," Mann-Agnew said. "This is all of our history."

Discovering Amistad owns a 128-foot replica of the Amistad, a schooner that the group uses for educational services and as a conversation starter. The real Amistad was carrying 53 enslaved Africans to a plantation in Cuba in 1839 when they took control of the ship, killing the captain and cook. They wandered up the East Coast before being captured by the crew of a revenue cutter off Long Island. They were brought to New London and jailed in New Haven. With the help of abolitionists they were eventually freed following a U.S. Supreme Court decision. Some returned to their native Sierra Leone.

The replica ship was present at Sunday's event and visitors could climb aboard it and take a free tour.

During the event, the crowd heard remarks by Peter Armstrong, president of the Mystic Seaport Museum; Robin Hogen, co-chair of Discovering Amistad and others. A discussion panel also took place with speakers from various professions talking about the prolonging effects of slavery and racism on areas such as healthcare, housing and education.

Dr. Lucinda Canty, a certified nurse midwife and assistant professor of nursing, said after years of research, black women, regardless of whether they start prenatal early and have financial resources, are three to four times more likely to die from child-birth related issues.

"Just because we have access to care doesn't mean we get quality care," Canty said.

Finnola Darby-Hudgens from the Connecticut Fair Housing Center has spent years researching housing and land use policies. She said Connecticut is one of the nation's most segregated states, even more so than Mississippi or Alabama.

"We live in a state and a country where zip codes define your destiny," Darby-Hudgens said.

Currently the dean of students at Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School in South Hadley, Mass., Kendrick Roundtree talked about how housing and education go hand in hand. He said funding for school systems are inequitable in the U.S. He said towns and cities with higher home ownership and property tax payments mean students in those towns get larger school budgets compared to towns and cities with low home ownership.

Quoran Walker performed and sang songs about freedom and two dancers performed a traditional liberte dance.