Juneteenth Has Special Meaning in Whitesboro

By ADIANNA ALSTON | AC JosepH Media

WHITESBOROJuneteenth, the nation’s annual commemoration of the abolition of slavery, is widely celebrated across South Jersey. One of this year’s celebrations will be held in Whitesboro, hosted by the Cape May County NAACP.

The festivities will take place at the Martin Luther King Recreation Center located at 207 West Main Street, beginning at 1pm. Quanette McNeal, president of the CMC NAACP, shares the special significance behind this location.

Whitesboro was established in 1902 as a community for African Americans in response to being rejected in many other areas of Cape May County. The town was named after George H. White, a black Congressman from North Carolina whose company purchased 2,000 acres of land to help start the community.

READ: Where to Find Juneteenth Celebrations in South Jersey

“Whitesboro is a historically black town,” McNeal told Front Runner New Jersey. “It is one of the few in Cape May — and it has always been the home base of the Cape May County Chapter of the NAACP since it started.”

READ: Juneteenth Mental Health Equity: https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/general/juneteenth-supporting-mental-health-equity-today-and-everyday/

In addition to Whitesboro being one of the oldest African American communities in the country, Cape May County holds further significance for playing an integral part in the Underground Railroad. Harriet Tubman at times lived in in Cape May where she worked summers to earn to help free slaves.

The Harriet Tubman Museum of New Jersey had its ribbon cutting in Cape May in 2020 to honor her legacy in the resort town.

McNeal’s grandfather, John “Jack” Vasser, Jr., made history when he became the county’s first African American mayor when he was elected to lead West Cape May in 1977. Vasser also served as a commissioner with the borough from 1973 to 2001.

Quanette Vasser-McNeal. Photo courtesy of Quanette Vasser-McNeal

The Whitesboro Juneteenth Festival was first held in 2020 following the death of George Floyd. McNeal, who was responsible for helping to start the festival, describes to Front Runner New Jersey the inspiration behind it.

“The height of the emotions at that time. Recognizing Juneteenth for what it is,” McNeal said. “Being a newly invigorated chapter and realizing such a festival or celebration had not happened in Cape May County prior to, or at least not hosted by the chapter.

“At that time, I just felt that it was necessary, it was something that was missing, and it certainly turned out to be a fantastic day. This will be our third event and it grows every year.”

This year, the festival has received sponsorship from the Atlantic Cape Community College as well as the Concerned Citizens of Whitesboro (CCW).

This festival offers free admission and will be packed with various forms of entertainment for all to enjoy.

Cape May County NAACP Treasurer Sherly Cisrow and Assistant Treasurer Tracy Cardwell holding up the branch’s new sign. Photo by Clayton Palmer

“We want people to come out and enjoy a day of fun and fellowship for a time and in a space that’s familiar and comfortable,” McNeal said.

There will be a live deejay, food vendors, local business vendors and even music and dance by Pan African Rhythm Cooperative, which consists of local drummers, performing artists and musicians who teach cultural connections with African rhythm, drums and dance.

There will be plenty in store for children as well, including bounce houses, face painting, and games the entire day. Hamburgers and hotdogs will also be offered free of cost to all children.

However, the highlight of the day will be the special guest speaker, Jonathan G. Green who serves as the Lead Community Mediator for the Community Relations Unit of the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights. McNeal offers insight on Green’s selection.

“I sit on the Cape County Prosecutor’s Office Social Justice Committee and he has attended the last few meetings that we had,” she said. “After hearing him speak and learning about the type of work that he does in the community, I felt that his voice was something that would permeate at such an event and would be something that would be beneficial for the folks that attend to learn about what he does.”

McNeal describes the importance of celebrating Juneteenth.

“I feel it’s our duty to bring forth this celebration annually; not just to remember where we were, but to celebrate our freedom, our growth and our greatness,” McNeal said. “Remembering that knowing the history is just as if not more important than the celebration.”

The CMC NAACP is also looking for volunteers.

“If anyone would like to volunteer at the event or upcoming events they can show up at 10:00 am the day of the event,” McNeal said.

The Whitesboro third annual Juneteenth Festival is sure to be an exciting and fulfilling experience.

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