OCEAN CITY — Eight current and former black residents will be honored for their contributions to the city Saturday during the third annual Juneteenth Celebration.
The event was born out of the realization several years ago that little of Ocean City’s black history was widely known to the community.
Brittany Battle and her friends Joshua Baker and Takiya Wilson decided they needed to create an organization dedicated to bringing awareness of that historical and cultural legacy.
“It’s not just for the black community, it’s for all the Ocean City community and the surrounding Cape May County, as well,” said Battle. “We really want the whole community out to celebrate the honorees and the legacy of the black community in Ocean City.”
City Councilman Antwan McClellan, the city’s second black council person, has been a strong supporter of the Juneteenth event.
“It’s unbelievable, especially the fact that we have young people like Brittany, Josh and Takiya taking the opportunity to pay homage to our foundation in the black community,” McClellan said.
He said it’s important for people to look back and honor those who paved the way for them.
“They kept us on the straight path that we needed to be on to be successful in our lives,” McClellan said.
One of the honorees is Baker’s mother, Charlene Taylor Hemphill, who died in 1983, a victim of domestic violence. In her honor, the organization is making a $500 donation to the Coalition Against Rape and Abuse.
“She was known in the community as a mother to all. Her home was a refuge for many of the children in the neighborhood who were struggling with personal issues,” Hemphill’s biography reads.
Battle said the goal is to honor those who have died and those who are still alive. Like Mary Miles and her husband, Tommy.
“They’re Second Street staples,” Battle said of the historic black neighborhood in Ocean City. “Mrs. Miles is very active in the church, and Mr. Miles has a painting business that’s been in Ocean City forever.”
She said one of the 2017 honorees, John Henry Sr., died in May, which illustrated the need to recognize pillars of the community and to catalog their stories for future generations. As part of its mission, the organization has been recording oral histories of Ocean City. The group showed a documentary with those recordings at its first celebration.
“We were so happy to be able to have honored him before he passed away,” Battle said of Henry. “His loved ones and the community were able to remember him in part by watching his segment from the documentary and share in the memory of his smile and laugh on the day of the first Juneteenth celebration. His passing really reminded us how important it is to show our appreciation and love for those who mean so much while they are still here.”
Battle said the Juneteenth organization will alternate years between the formal brunch and a more informal barbecue.
This year’s celebration will also include live music from BF Sounds, minority small-business vendor tables, clips from the documentary video reflecting on the development of the community and the presentation of a scholarship to a local undergraduate.