George Washington Carver School alumni on Saturday hosted the annual commemoration of Emancipation Day with a day of speeches, music, prizes, and lunch.
The program highlights the Sept. 22, 1862, issuance of President Lincoln’s preliminary Emancipation Proclamation that announced all enslaved people in the south would be free by Jan. 1, 1863, if the Confederate Army did not rejoin the union.
The event was organized by the Carver Alumni Association and held at the school, now the Carver Senior Center. Guests included Purcellville Mayor Stanley Milan who welcomed everyone to the event and former Mayor Kwasi Fraser who introduced NASA Mechanical Engineer Glenn Marcus Bazemore as the Keynote speaker.
Bazemore, a Virginia native spoke about faith, friends and family and how each affected his life. He shared the story of watching Star Wars for the first time at the age of five with his father while he was home sick with the flu. It was then he decided to become a Jedi.
Later, when he realized he couldn’t become a Jedi he decided to become the next best thing—an astronaut.
He talked about the support of his family in pursuing that dream and how meeting Leland Melvin, a Black astronaut, during a science symposium in high school impacted him.
“You don’t see many people that look like us [in this field] so I wanted to talk to him,” he said.
Bazemore said he stood in line for two hours to meet Leland, who told him to pursue a career in engineering, and to stop trying to fit in and be himself. Leland also told him he would support him 100% if he went into engineering.
“It’s one thing to hear it from your mom or dad, but it’s another thing to hear it from a random person you talked to for all of two minutes,” he said. “It really resonated with me.”
He said he took it to heart and focused for his final two years of high school and got an internship at NASA.
Bazemore connected with Leland a few years later, which led to his current job at NASA in mechanical integration.
“I think a lot of us, Black, white, indifferent are told we can’t do certain things and I came literally from a kid watching Star Wars to doing this,” he said in an interview.
President of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation Steve Williams discussed the history behind getting Juneteenth recognized as a federal holiday, an effort led by Opal Lee, known as the “grandmother of Juneteenth,” and Dr. Ronald V. Myers.
Myers, a physician, jazz musician and a reverend, chaired the National Association of Juneteenth Lineage. His organization was instrumental in getting Congress to pass legislation in 1997 that recognized June 19 as “Juneteenth Independence Day” in America.
“Doc took the Juneteenth legislation to 43 states and the District of Columbia and got us where we are at today,” Williams said.
“Doc wanted to federalize Juneteenth because he felt it would make America a better place–and it will. It’s going to take some time to get some traction, but it will, especially when you understand the totality of Juneteenth,” he said.
He also presented a Juneteenth flag to the Carver Alumni Association and explained the meaning behind the symbols on the flag.
The white star in the middle has dual meaning, according to Williams. It represents the guiding star and Texas where the country’s last remaining enslaved people were freed. The burst around the star represents a new birth. The arc represents a new horizon of freedom and opportunity. Williams said the color red represents the blood that their ancestors spilled. The red, white and blue colors are also a reminder that enslaved people and their ancestors are Americans.
The Loudoun County Emancipation Association was organized in 1890 in Hamilton. It is the first county-wide African American-controlled organization, according to the event program. In 1910, the organization bought 10.5 acres in Purcellville that became Emancipation Grounds. The Association chose Sept. 22 to commemorate the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. Through the years the land was used as the grounds for a 1,200-seat tabernacle where speakers came and spoke to crowds as large as 5,000. The land was also used for religious revivals, pageants, baseball games and was eventually sold in 1971. A historic marker was installed in 2000.