Photos by Shawn Nowlin
Shawn Nowlin firstname.lastname@example.org
Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. First celebrated in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, approximately three years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, the occurrence has been observed nationwide for more than 150 years.
In the African American community, Juneteenth is often referred to as Emancipation Day or Freedom Day. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. has stated that “Juneteenth marks our country’s second Independence Day.”
Several misconceptions about Juneteenth exist such as it’s the country’s oldest celebration of emancipation. The oldest celebration of the end of slavery actually happened in Gallipolis, Ohio, on Sept. 22, 1863. Another Juneteenth misconception is Texas slaves didn’t learn they were freed until 1865. Historians believe that many slave owners hid news of the Emancipation Proclamation for selfish motives.
All throughout Southwest Virginia, Juneteenth celebrations occurred last weekend.
The Christiansburg Institute and Buzz4good hosted a free event honoring the lives and history of African Americans. Floyd CARE (Community Action for Racial Equity) hosted a celebration at Warren G. Lineberry Community Park. The Alleghany Highlands NAACP held a celebration of freedom at Jeter Watson Park. The Lynchburg Juneteenth Coalition held a virtual, live-streamed program from the Academy Center of the Arts, and Appomattox for Equality hosted its second annual Juneteenth event in Courtland Field. Additional events happened in Roanoke, Covington, Roanoke County, Lynchburg and Clifton Forge.
Neighborhood activist and historian Jordan Bell was a co-organizer of the Juneteenth Family Reunion at Eureka Park last Saturday. More than 40 vendors were present to offer cultural merchandise, food and emphasize the significance of the day. In addition to the history lessons, attendees also got an opportunity to participate in various activities and get vaccinated. Several high school cheerleaders paid homage to their ancestors with a powerful dance routine that brought Salem native Ashley Gordon to tears.
Virginia Department of Health nurse Cynthia Vineyard-Brown said more than two dozen people were given COVID-19 shots. “We just wanted to make a difference in the community. Many questions were asked, and I was happy to provide answers. Certain people are still hesitant about the vaccine. I explained that they have nothing to worry about,” Vineyard-Brown said.
On June 15, the Senate passed a bill to make Juneteenth the 12th federal holiday under a unanimous consent agreement. The next day, the House of Representatives voted 415-14 in favor of the bill. When President Joe Biden signed the bill into law on June 17, it marked the first new national holiday since Martin Luther King Day was created in 1983.
Speaking on the importance of Juneteenth at the Martin Luther King Jr. statue in downtown Roanoke, Mayor Sherman Lea Sr. said, “People are celebrating, they’re hearing speeches, but I want us to think about that, feel the joy and happiness, but go beyond the speeches and do what you can do.”
Perneller Chubb-Wilson is currently the President of the SCLC Roanoke Chapter. She added, “I’m so happy I don’t know what to do. When the Governor announced Juneteenth was a state holiday and then when the President said it was a national holiday, I fell back and came back again and I said ‘Jesus, it’s long past due.’”
When Ann Johnson, 69, was growing up in Salem, she says she was taught very little about Juneteenth in school. It wasn’t until she started doing her own research that she began to understand its historical significance. The thought of Juneteenth becoming a federal holiday was unfathomable a few years ago, said Johnson.
She continued, “Last week’s Juneteenth community events were meant to challenge, inspire and educate. Seeing so many people of different colors present made my heart smile,” he said. “The only way that we can reach our potential as a community is if we listen to each other and fully embrace our past.”