WOOLWICH TWP. — Accolades are pouring in for the Swedesboro Juneteenth Festival, sponsored by HELP, Inc., on June 18 at Kingsway Regional High School grounds. This was the only local Juneteenth event at a historical site (the lot is across from Mt. Zion A.M.E. church, an Underground Railroad site).
This free family event offered enjoyment for everyone with an award-winning choir, bands, professional actors, storytelling, children’s activities, African face painting, vendors, barbeque, and much more.
“I am honored to be here today. What a great event,” remarked Frank DiMarco, Director of Gloucester County Commissioners. Juneteenth is a state and national holiday celebrating the ending of slavery in America.
“We believe the BEST place to celebrate freedom was here in Woolwich Township, because we have an Underground Railroad site on the state and national historic records,” said Rev. Sherry Lynn Hall, Director of Community Programming, HELP, Inc. “It was one of Harriet Tubman’s stops on her Springtown line.”
“This was absolutely phenomenal. History, music, young people. You must have it next year,” exclaimed Jacquiline Love, former deputy mayor, Deptford Township.
Audience members were wowed by the Trumpet Chicks and PACE band, Camden. They also loved the R & B classic sound from newcomer ShaLyn Money and friends. The Creative Arts High School Choir amazed the audience with African songs and Negro Spirituals.
“I’m honored to have been a part of this,” said Doug Harris, speaker, author, and expert on African American life in Southern New Jersey. Millicent Sparks, actress, had the audience spell-bound with her portrayal of Harriet Tubman. “You just don’t see events like this one,” said Love.
The draw for many people was the historic location. “I came all this way because I wanted to take a tour, and I brought my grandchildren to experience it too,” said Linda Jones of Vineland.
Most were surprised to learn that Mt. Zion was established in 1799, making it one of the oldest African-American churches in the country. Two of its members, Jubilee Sharper and Pompey Lewis, were Underground Railroad operatives.
Some attendees walked down the road to the church’s cemetery where 12 Colored Troop soldiers are buried along with freedmen, abolitionists, and ex-slaves. Benjamin Carlton, Union Soldier reenactor, gave information about the life of Colored Troop soldiers.
This event was sponsored by HELP, Inc., Woolwich Township, Aunt Berta’s Restaurant, local businesses, and churches. HELP Inc. mission is to educate, preserve and inspire. They offer tours of its three African-American sites, educational and cultural programs throughout the year.
To find out other events sponsored by HELP, Inc., membership opportunities, donating, and more please visit www.helpinc.org, or email inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Photos of the Juneteenth event can be seen on its FaceBook page: Swedesboro Juneteenth Festival.
Funding has been made possible in part by the Gloucester County Cultural & Heritage Commission of Rowan College of South Jersey, and the New Jersey Historical Commission / Department of State.