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Norwich NAACP to host scaled-down Juneteenth ceremony Friday

Norwich — The Norwich NAACP branch hosted the state's first Juneteenth celebration 31 years ago, but as the event takes on added meaning this year amid nationwide protests against police brutality and racial discrimination, it had to be canceled due to COVID-19.

Instead of the usual waterfront festival at the Howard T. Brown Memorial Park, the Norwich NAACP and Global City Norwich will host a ceremony at 9:30 a.m. Friday at the David Ruggles Freedom Courtyard at City Hall. 

The ceremony to commemorate the 155th anniversary of the end of slavery in the United States, will include a few small performances and youth speakers telling about the history of Juneteenth and its importance to African Americans, branch President Shiela Hayes said.

“Nothing major like we normally do, but we wanted to recognize Juneteenth,” Hayes said. “The Norwich branch was the first to hold a Juneteenth celebration in the state.”

The first celebration, organized by longtime branch president Jacqueline Owens, was held in 1989.

Hayes credited Alderman Derell Wilson, an African American, for organizing Friday’s ceremony. Wilson said he wants to ensure the city celebrates Juneteenth because of its importance to the African American community.

In May, Wilson organized a brief ceremony at the City Hall plaza to mark Haitian Flag Day, which also is celebrated annually in Norwich with a festival at Brown Park.

“I want to embrace all communities, all cultures, in the city of Norwich,” Wilson said. “I wanted to make sure people don’t feel forgotten. We appreciate their contributions to the city. It’s a small way for people to celebrate them. With everything going on in this country, it’s important that we embrace and support one another.”

The Norwich NAACP and Global City Norwich already are working on a much larger Juneteenth celebration in 2021. The Norwich and New London NAACP branches hope to combine their celebrations with participation by national leaders. Details are expected to be announced later this year, Hayes said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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