Norwich celebrates Juneteenth with ceremony in Freedom Courtyard

New London

NORWICH, Conn. (WTNH) — The Norwich NAACP has been celebrating Juneteenth since 1989 — long before any other city in the state.

The bell hung in honor of the Emancipation Proclamation and was rung 31 times for each year the city has celebrated Juneteenth.

“I stood with tears and leaping in my spirit as the bells were ringing,” said Lashawn Cunningham, Chairperson for Friday’s NAACP event.

It was on June 19, 1865, that slavery ended in the United States. That was two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln, who once campaigned for president in Norwich, signed the Emancipation Proclamation declaring that freedom. A Union general had to inform slaves in the South.

“What slave owner was just all of a sudden going to say to their slaves ‘now you’re our employees; now we have to pay you,’” said Sheila Hayes,  President, Norwich Branch of the NAACP.

It may be fitting that this year’s ceremony took place in the Freedom Courtyard, which is dedicated to local abolitionist, David Ruggles.

“He was recorded to have helped over 600 slaves escape from slavery,” said Regan Miner, Executive Director of the Norwich Historical Society.

“I think it does demonstrate that the city’s actions are far more stronger than words,” Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom (R) told the crowd.

“We can’t undo our past, okay, but we can change our future, and that is what the rallies, the protests, that’s what the movement is,” said Hayes.

Congressman Joe Courtney (D) said the House is set to vote on the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act next Thursday after hearing last week from Floyd’s brother and police experts.

“Right now, there’s 222 co-sponsors,” he said. “You need 218 votes to pass a bill, so that’s obviously a pretty good sign.”

The bill would make body cameras mandatory, ban chokeholds and require new training to stop racial profiling.  

For Nezariah Johnson, who sang a song for the crowd gathered at City Hall,  it’s simple.

“At least we have family,” she said. “Family is important.”

Raising the flag celebrating Juneteenth at Norwich City Hall is important to many as well.

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