“It’s an honor to be here on the very first federally recognized Juneteenth holiday, a date that commemorates the emancipation of enslaved Americans,” said Jane Brackman, board member of the Altadena Historical Society (AHS) as she welcomed attendees to a special Juneteenth celebration.
Altadena church’s Pathfinder club was invited by councilwoman and AHS board member Veronica Jones to support a Juneteenth event on Saturday, June 19, hosted by Mountain View Cemetery & Mausoleum and AHS to celebrate the life of educator and civil rights activist Ellen Garrison Clark, who died December 21, 1892, and was buried in an unmarked grave, and to lay a marker on her grave. The Pathfinder club participated by carrying flags during the posting of colors at the beginning of the program and again at the end of the program for the procession to Clark’s gravesite.
“When Altadena Councilwoman Veronica Jones invited our Altadena Pathfinders to participate in this historic event our initial reaction was, ‘Wow, that would be amazing!’” said Elihu McMahon, who co-directs the Altadena Pathfinder club with his wife, Abbigale. “We were so excited and considered it to be an honor and privilege that she requested our participation. She is extremely supportive of our church, our Pathfinders, and the numerous community service activities that our church does.”
Clark was an African-American woman, anti-slavery activist, civil rights advocate, and educator. Clark spent 25 years teaching in the Freedmen’s Schools in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and Kansas. Born in Concord, Mass., on April 14, 1823, she eventually moved to Altadena, where she was laid to rest. Until this recognition ceremony, she had been buried without a headstone for more than a century at the Mountain View Cemetery & Mausoleum.
“We wanted the Pathfinders to reflect on the significance of Juneteenth and specifically people like Ellen Garrison Clark, who, as a civil rights activist and educator, made a difference in the movement to free people, both physically and mentally,” McMahon added. “Christ wants all of His children to be free.”
AHS was founded in 1935 to gather, preserve, and share the history of the people, places, and events that shaped the Altadena community; however, Brackman shared how the organization now recognizes that the original mission of AHS was catered to preserving the histories of white people in the city and was not inclusive of racially diverse communities. As organizations have had to face hard questions about racial diversity and inclusivity, AHS is looking to make those changes.
AHS board member Sandra E. Thomas, Ph.D. shared about the life and legacy of Clark. Allen Edson, NAACP president, Pasadena branch, shared a message of hope. Musical performances included “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (by James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamon Johnson, 1905) performed by Allison Crawford and spiritual “Troubles of the World” (made famous by Mahalia Jackson, 1959) performed by Charles Pulliam. There was also a performance of Dr. Maya Angelou’s well-known poem “And Still I Rise” (1978) performed by Briana Price.
Judy Chu, Congresswoman, 27th District of California, was also in attendance. “I am especially proud to be here at this moment in time,” said Chu. It was just this past Wednesday while I was in Washington D.C. that I cast my vote to establish Juneteenth as a national holiday. Clark grew up engaged in the fight against slavery. She had a lifelong commitment to helping others on the path toward freedom, and that meant making education a priority for herself and others.”
“We want everyone to leave here knowing and not forgetting who Ellen Garrison Clark really was,” said Jones in her closing remarks.
Following the close of the indoor portion of the program, attendees walked outside to Clark’s gravesite to dedicate the grave marker, led by the Altadena Pathfinder’s flag processional. Tyrone Skinner, pastor of the Metropolitan Baptist church in Altadena, gave the dedication to unveil the headstone.
“Ministry and service are the foundation of our work in the Altadena Pathfinder club,” said McMahon, “and this event allowed us to provide both.”