By Jennifer Ersalesi
Photo credits: Lori Griffin and Sami Abuauad
Juneteenth was recognized as a federal holiday on June 17, 2021, when President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Act into law. Since 1866, Juneteenth has been celebrated across the nation. Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African-Americans and celebrates African-American culture.
Rutherford’s Civil Rights Commission invited all members of the community to celebrate Juneteenth at Mt. Ararat Baptist Church on Saturday, June 19th. Deacon Al Anderson of Mt. Ararat Baptist Church led the program with opening thoughts and prayer. Former Reverend (of Mt. Ararat Church) Ray Frazier’s son, Paul Frazier performed a song. The Emancipation Proclamation was read. Next, a video about Juneteenth was presented.
Rod Leith spoke about the African-American history of Rutherford. Rod Leith, Borough Historian, spoke about the Yereance family who had a Black servant named Anthony Williams, born about 1853, just after New Jersey decried all enslaved were to be freed. Williams was their servant in the late 19th century. Leith also paid tribute to Lafayette Hoag (modernized as Hoage). “Lafayette Hoag was a former slave who built his home and barn at what is now 127 Donaldson Avenue. This house, an authentic Italianate architecture, was disparagingly called ‘slave house’ in this century. The Hoages had seven children, one named Rutherford, who died in infancy. One of their sons who became a physician was the first Black to graduate from Rutherford schools,” Leith explained. "Research shows he left Virginia about 1837, the same year Mr. Yereance sold his slave to Mr. Brinckerhoff. Lafayette made his journey to New Orleans where he was engaged in assisting in the care of Union soldiers. One of those soldiers was Alonzo Mabbett, a Union army captain who was severely injured by a cannonball at Port Hudson. Once he was able to travel, Mabbett brought Lafayette to his home in Rochester, NY. That's where Lafayette met Elizabeth Henon, his future wife. It is not surprising Captain Mabbett would help Hoag, his family was active as conductors in the Underground Railroad.”
Ginny Perrin provided remarks on behalf of the Rutherford Civil Rights Commission. The final reflections were given by Reverend Shawn Pate and the celebration ended with a release of balloons.