Jubilee celebration honors history-makers

Published 8:30 am Wednesday, July 3, 2024

BY TRACY AGNEW

The Farmville Herald

An upcoming event is the culmination of a dream Dr. Yemaja Jubilee had more than a year ago.

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On July 5-7, a series of events at Twin Lakes State Park as well as in the town of Farmville, dubbed the July Jubilee Juneteenth Celebration, will be marked by a personal appearance by Dr. Opal Lee.

Lee, affectionately known as the “Grandmother of Juneteenth,” is a 97-year-old Texas native who has a personal connection with the date. On June 19, 1939, a white mob burned down her family’s house in Fort Worth, angry at them for moving into a mostly white neighborhood. That experience galvanized her desire to see Juneteenth become a federal holiday in her lifetime. She gained notoriety over the years for a series of symbolic walks commemorating the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, in 1865 and ensured the end of slavery was enforced. In 2021, she was present when President Joe Biden signed the bill officially making Juneteenth a federal holiday.

A HISTORY OF TWIN LAKES

Twin Lakes State Park, the location of most of the upcoming events, has a history that is deeply intertwined with Jubilee’s own family history.

The park was initially two segregated recreation areas: Goodwin Lake, which was designated for white people, and Prince Edward Lake, which was designated for Black people. The Prince Edward side of the facility was converted into a state park in the 1940s in response to a lawsuit by a Black businessman whose family was denied entrance into a separate state park because of their race. According to the historical marker acknowledging this history, Prince Edward State Park merged with the Goodwin Lake Recreation Area in 1986 to become Twin Lakes State Park.

Jubilee’s father, the Rev. Dr. John Henry Brown, worked on the construction of facilities on both sides of the park with the 1390 Black Battalion when he was only 17 years old. He passed away last year at age 97.

Last year, Jubilee produced a Juneteenth event at the park, where her father was honored. At the event, she had a dream that she was standing on the ground by the gazebo hugging Opal Lee. She was determined to bring Lee here this year.

From there, many things have fallen into place, including hard work on sponsorships and funding and the confirmation that Lee will indeed be able to attend.

“I’m just elated, my dream is coming true,” Jubilee said. “We needed to bring something big to this part of Virginia. I like doing things differently. My creative mind works that way.”

Jubilee created the Connect, Communicate and Collaborate Team to come together and produce the event.

“I couldn’t do it by myself,” Jubilee said, naming innumerable people who have helped her bring the event together.

“We want to encourage people to come and celebrate,” Jubilee said. “It’s about all of us being free in our minds, our bodies and our spirits.”

‘HISTORY MAKING EXPERIENCES’

Jill Ahmad, assistant director of marketing and community engagement at the Robert Russa Moton Museum, which is a sponsor of the event, said the event is not to be missed.

“We’re talking about an event that is chock-full of history-making experiences that we cannot guarantee will happen next year,” Ahmad said.

Sherita McGowan of the Croaker’s Spot will be among the featured food vendors. The Croaker’s Spot has its roots in Richmond’s Eggleston Hotel, which welcomed Black travelers during segregation.

“We are honored to welcome all of the amazing vendors who are coming out to provide an amazing experience for all those in attendance,” Ahmad added. “This is a historic opportunity for the young and old to come and celebrate and commemorate not just the history of Juneteenth and what it stands for but also an opportunity to shake hands with and lay eyes on 97-year-old Dr. Opal Lee. I really think those who come are going to walk away feeling like they have helped make a shift.”

Moton Museum Executive Director Cainan Townsend said the event will have great significance.

“We are thrilled to have Dr. Opal Lee in Prince Edward County to commemorate Juneteenth,” he said. “Hosting this event at the historic Twin Lakes adds even more significance. We hope many will join us to hear from the ‘Grandmother of Juneteenth.’ Moton is honored to be a part of this momentous occasion.”

DETAILING THE SCHEDULE

On Friday, a meet-and-greet and dance party will take place from 3 to 8 p.m. at Twin Lakes State Park, 788 Twin Lakes Road, Green Bay, to welcome Lee. A Walk for Freedom and musical entertainment will also take place.

On Saturday, also at the state park, a Juneteenth Celebration featuring a Buffalo Soldiers Motorcade, a gospel choir and awards ceremony will take place from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Lee will also be an honored guest at the Saturday events.

Saturday’s awards will be the first presentation of the Rev. Dr. John Henry Brown Humanitarian Awards, but Jubilee intends for them not to be the last awards presented in her father’s name.

On Sunday at 11 a.m., Lee will be featured during the worship service at Jericho Baptist Church, 615 Franklin St., Farmville.

Registration is required for the events and can be completed by filling out a short form at bit.ly/twinlakesjuneteenth. Call 434-392-3435 for more information.