Claremont residents organize city’s first Juneteenth celebration

By LIZ SAUCHELLI

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 06-16-2023 1:53 PM

CLAREMONT — Three residents have organized the city’s first Juneteenth celebration.

Whitney Skillen, Jonathan Nelson and his mother, Jen Nelson, have planned a bicycle parade and community picnic at Broad Street Park for Monday.

“My goal for this year was to basically build awareness and buy-in from the community that this is a celebration that we want to have every year in the community,” said Skillen, who is a member of the Claremont School Board.

Juneteenth celebrates the day the last people who were enslaved in the United States learned they were free: On June 19, 1865 — more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed — a Union general arrived in Galveston, Texas, and informed around 250,000 people that they were no longer enslaved.

People will begin gathering at Broad Street Park at 5:30 p.m. to set up for the picnic and line up for the bike parade at 6 p.m. The group will start on its roughly two-mile loop at 6:19 p.m. (to honor the date) and the picnic will begin after the bike ride concludes around 6:35 p.m. People can attend the picnic without participating in the bike ride, said Skillen. More information about the event — including weather updates — can be found on Facebook at: “Juneteenth Bike Parade and Community Picnic.”

The idea for a parade evolved organically: Back in March, Skillen purchased a new bicycle and talked with friends about how fun it would be to have a bike parade in the city. They decided Juneteenth would be a great fit because the holiday is a celebration and it could also be connected to the deeper meaning of the holiday.

“We thought a bike ride could be used as a really good symbol to symbolize the time and distance it took to notify the last enslaved people within the Union that they were free,” Skillen said.

She plotted out a bike route that would be accessible for people of all ages and abilities. Those who participate are encouraged to decorate their bikes.

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“There’s been so many debates about how we discuss U.S. history as it occurs in this country and I think some things don’t have to be a debate. Celebrating freedom is one of those universal human things,” Skillen said. “Even if you don’t identify with having ancestors who were enslaved everyone can identify with the right to be free and that’s what this celebration is about in Claremont.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.