ITHACA, N.Y. –– County and City staff and volunteers will be performing a reading of “A Juneteenth Play,” Friday night to celebrate the upcoming holiday on Saturday, June 19. The play is written by County Historian Carol Kammen and Legislature Chairwoman Leslyn McBean-Clairborne and takes place in 1865, “around the events of the Galveston, Texas announcement of emancipation that led to the Juneteenth celebrations that we continue today.” In addition, the play localizes these events, having scenes set in Ithaca as well.
“This play shares the voices of 3 Black soldiers of the 26th United States Colored Troops returning to Ithaca after the war ended. The audience is invited to share in the soldiers’ experiences when they talk about Juneteenth — what it meant to be there in Texas for the announcement of General Order No.3, what they took away with them from the war and their fight for the freedom of those who were enslaved, and the joy of being back home in Ithaca,” McBean-Clairborne said.
Kammen added that the play also examines the federal government’s role in supporting formerly enslaved persons, and how many were left to fend for themselves.
“While it told the slaves in Texas that they were free and had been freed as a consequence of the ending of the war, which should have happened months earlier, there’s a second a second piece in,” Kammen said. “They were informed they were ‘not to be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.’ In other words…you’ve been free for a couple of months. Don’t ask us for any help.”
Thus the play takes place in three parts –– being enslaved and in the military, being freed and then dealing with newfound freedom.
This collaboration between Kammen and McBean-Clairborne is not the women’s first artistic endeavor together. They’ve been producing plays and other forms of theatre together for the better part of 30 years.
According to Kammen, McBean Clairborne performed in one of her earliest works at the AME Zion Church in Ithaca. Now, they’ve collaborated in a way new to them both –– on the Zoom frontier.
“I just gave her the words and it’s up to Leslyn to make it come alive, which she can do,” Kammen said.
The performers for tonight’s show include the entire organizing committee for the Juneteenth events –– Deanna Carrithers, J.R. Clairborne, Rachel Graham, Schelley Michell-Nunn, Ruby Pulliam, Cynthia Brock, Dr. Kenneth Clarke and Henry Granison with McBean-Clairborne directing and technical support from Dominick Reckkio.