CIAMS Celebrates Juneteenth at St. James AME Zion Church

As part of the city’s Juneteenth celebration, Ithaca’s Southside Community Center hosted a series of events from June 9th to June 19th, continuing a tradition that has endured over 4 decades. 

As part of Saturday’s festival on June 15th, Cornell’s Institute for Archaeology and Material Studies (CIAMS) and St. James AME Zion Church organized an artifact washing activity for kids next to the church. Prof. Adam T. Smith, Director of CIAMS and a co-director of archaeological excavations at St. James noted that the event was “a chance for Ithacans of all ages to learn about their community’s history and to gain exposure to the excitement of archaeological discovery.”

Since 2021, Cornell faculty from CIAMS and the Underground Railroad Project (URRP) have collaborated with Reverend Terrance King and the congregation of the St. James AME Zion Church in order to explore the history of Ithaca’s oldest church. Founded in 1833, St. James is known to have been an important Underground Railroad station in Ithaca during the 1840s and 1850s. The Fall of 2024 will be the fourth and last season of the excavations that have brought the Ithaca and Cornell communities closer together. 

The artifact washing was led by Samantha Sanft, a postdoctoral associate in CIAMS at Cornell, and by Kate Bajorek, Jamie Ellis, Quinn Stickley, Arnav Tandon, and Emma Zilke, all graduate students in CIAMS. Washing artifacts is an especially exciting and interactive way to learn about how archaeology is done and provided an opportunity for participants to, quite literally, reach out and touch their community’s past. 

Dr. Sanft reflected on the event, saying, “We were honored to be invited to participate in the Juneteenth celebrations and we had a great time being out in the community. It was lovely catching up with our friends at St. James and getting to meet new people as well. The CIAMS students did an excellent job teaching kids how to identify washed artifacts, and the kids were excited to describe the objects and try to figure out what each one was. Community members of all ages stopped by our table and we enjoyed getting to share more about the St. James AME Zion Church Community Excavations. All in all, it was a beautiful day and we had a great time!”

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Image of CIAMS artifact washing and participants