UncategorizedMorris County Hosts Juneteenth Kickoff Event

“Art in the Atrium” Presenting Its First All-Women Exhibit Morris County to Unveil 5 Rare “Manumissions”


Juneteenth 2024 celebrations in Morris County will kick off Thursday, June 13, at 6:30 p.m. with the official opening of this year’s Art in the Atrium exhibit in the Morris County Administration and Records Building in Morristown.

The opening reception of “WOW: Women’s Outstanding Works” will mark the 32nd annual exhibit by Art in the Atrium (ATA), the largest exhibitor of African American art in New Jersey. The first all-women ATA exhibit, curated by Onnie Strother and Bisa Wendy Washington, showcases the work of 70 Black and Afro-Latina women artists, including master artist Nette Forné Thomas. Time to Play painting by Nette Forne Thomas

The variety of local artwork showcased by ATA is available for purchase and is already on display throughout four floors of the administration building.

In recognition of Juneteenth, The Morris County Board of County Commissioners are adding to the gallery with a special display of historic documents related to the emancipation of five slaves in the area – specifically rare local “manumissions” regarding African American slaves who were living in Morris County.

“Of course, slavery was not limited to the South prior to the Civil War, and the New Jersey Gradual Emancipation Act of 1804 was a big step toward ending the practice in this state. Still, the law required a formal process of witnesses and legal actions before a slave could be freed from bondage, as these manumissions will attest. They are pieces of parchment that signify not only how five people were finally freed between 1812 and 1829, but also how five fellow human beings were owned by wealthy families right here in Morris County, a fact of our shared history,” said Morris County Commissioner John Krickus, who will provide welcome remarks at this year’s event.

Manumissions are official, hand-written documents by which slaveowners certified the freedom of individual African Americans held in bondage. The county worked with the state to secure the return of the 19th Century manumissions when they were discovered through an online advertisement for a pending Internet auction.

The auction house and the estate of a private collector — who had owned, transcribed and researched the documents — voluntarily provided them to Morris County once notified that the documents are official public records. They have since been secured in the archives of the Morris County Heritage Commission.

This will be the first time these historic documents will be available for public viewing, and a special showing will be available on Saturday, June 15 at the Morris County Atrium from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., simultaneously with the Juneteenth Freedom Day Festival on the Morristown Green.

 "American Lukasa 2024: Cash Crops" by Rosalind Nzinga Vaughn-Nichol.The June 13 Art in the Atrium reception will launch a weekend of Juneteenth events and activities presented by a partnership of local nonprofit organizations, including a Juneteenth Arts Celebration at Morris Museum on Friday, June 14 and the 12th annual Juneteenth Freedom Day Festival that begins at noon on Saturday.

The Juneteenth Freedom Day Festival, hosted by Sankofa Heritage Collective of Morris County in collaboration with various partner organizations, will feature performances by local and renowned artists celebrating African American culture with music, spoken word, reenactments, dancers and steppers. There will be guest speakers, resources and seminars on nutrition, exercise, and disease prevention, a kids’ zone featuring educational activities, and a variety of Black-owned business vendors.

Co-sponsors include Atlantic Healthcare, Morris Arts, the County College of Morris, Saint Elizabeth University, Morris County Historical Society, Morris County Education Association, Morris County Economic Development Alliance, Presbyterian Church of Morristown and Bethel Church of Morristown.

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union General Gordon Granger delivered “General Order No. 3,” announcing the Emancipation Proclamation to the enslaved Black communities in Galveston, Texas and enforced the end of slavery throughout that state.  It was not until two-and-a-half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln — and two months after the April 9, 1865, end of the Civil War — that news of slaves being freed reached African Americans living in remote areas controlled by the Confederacy, including the southwestern United States.

Juneteenth was initially celebrated only in the South, primarily in Texas, by freed slaves beginning June 19, 1866.  But the observation grew throughout the nation, being declared a federal holiday in 2021, when New Jersey first celebrated it as a state holiday.  Morris County marked that event by hosting a virtual exhibit in partnership with ATA during the pandemic.

About Art in the Atrium, Inc.

Art in the Atrium, Inc. is a non-profit, African American led cultural institution founded in Morristown, New Jersey, in 1991. Its mission is “to articulate the value of Black visual arts and its role in culture.” For more information, visit artintheatrium.org.


Article courtesy of the County of Morris.