‘What better holiday to celebrate?’
Historic Black neighborhood in East Towson set to host its first Juneteenth music festival
The historic Black community of East Towson will celebrate the end of slavery in the United States with its first Juneteenth music festival.
Juneteenth — short for June 19 — is the oldest nationally celebrated African American holiday and hosting such an event seemed natural for East Towson, said Nancy Goldring, president of the Northeast Towson Improvement Association.
After all, the neighborhood was founded more than 150 years ago by freed enslaved people from Hampton, the mansion and estate nearby.
The festival will take place from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday at the Elks Lodge, located at 411 E. Pennsylvania Ave. The Elks Lodge has long been a central meeting place for the East Towson community, Goldring said.
“The Elks Lodge has been here in the community for 99 years,” she said, “so we thought what better place and what better holiday to celebrate?”
Among those scheduled to perform at the festival are singer/songwriter Carly Troyer, the Jordan Gillis Band, vocalist Katyrah Love, jazz/rock fusion guitarist Noah Pierre, and the Diamonds of Jazz featuring Larzine.
“I’m excited to meet the other artists and do whatever I can to help my community,” said Troyer, who is from Towson.
Love, who has performed on stage at New York City’s famous Apollo Theatre, said she is “super excited” and explained her artistry.
“A lot of my songs cater toward Black love, Black encouragement and maintaining a respect for one another,” she said, “so I’m excited for everyone to hear what I got and see some beautiful music written and created by other amazing musicians.”
Tickets for this event are on sale for $35 on Eventbrite. All proceeds will go to the Northeast Towson Improvement Association for the benefit of the community and its residents
“I hope this will raise awareness of the rich history of East Towson and also provide a creative and economic opportunity for a number of artists who will be performing there,” said David Riley, president of Pink and Blues Music Foundation, who helped Goldring organize the Juneteenth event.
The festival also will support Goldring’s and other residents’ resistance to ongoing the Red Maple Place Development, a 56-unit proposed affordable housing project slated to be built in East Towson in a wooded area off Fairmount Avenue, between East Pennsylvania Avenue and East Joppa Road.
Goldring explained that its construction will impact traffic, exacerbate stormwater
flooding, and destroy the history of the historic Black neighborhood.
She called the project a “systematic attempt” to wipe historic East Towson off Towson’s map.
“We’re happy to take what has been a heavy burden for us all over the last couple years and do something that we can all enjoy while we still stay the course,” she said.
“It’s been a long and arduous journey and we are still on it,” Goldring continued. “It is not easy but it is absolutely worth it to extend the tide to insensitive and irresponsible development and encroachment on our neighborhood’s boundaries, which has been going on for [nearly] 200 years.”
Jordan Gillis said he considered his own historic Black neighborhood in Dundalk before agreeing to perform at the festival.
“I’m from a historic Black neighborhood myself in Turner Station,” he said. “Even though I’m not from [East Towson], I understand how the people that are from there feel about where they come from and they want to protect it — I support that 100%.”
Like many other residents in Historic East Towson, Goldring is a direct descendant of those freed from the nearby Hampton estate.
The Hampton Mansion was built and maintained by enslaved African-Americans. When Charles Ridgely, Maryland governor and owner of estate, died in 1829, his will freed a portion of those slaves, according to a book written by historian Louis Diggs. Some of this newly freed Black population settled nearby.
Goldring explained their struggle and said, “as long as we’ve been free, we’ve been battling.”
With this Juneteenth festival she is excited about the outpouring of support that they are receiving from neighboring communities and the local talent it will showcase.
“Our ancestors built Hampton and this town,” she said. “We thought that this would be a really creative way to stay current on our legal obligations and we look forward to turning this into an annual event.”