Reflecting on history of Juneteenth, celebrations in Southwest & Central Virginia

Reflecting on history of Juneteenth, celebrations in Southwest & Central Virginia

WYTHEVILLE, Va. (WDBJ) – June 19, also known as Juneteenth, is a day when freedom finally came in 1865 to enslaved African Americans in Texas, 2 1/2 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. WDBJ7 checked in with one hometown about its significance and how their honoring the holiday.

What’s now known as the Wytheville Training School Cultural Center started out as a church and school for former African American slaves in 1867. It now teaches about African American History, provides programs and eventually expanded into the African American heritage museum.

“The Wytheville Training School operated for over 70 years as a segregated school. A place of learning, a place of growing and a place where the community could communicate and get information in and out of their communities. So, we are excited to still have this historical building in our midst serving the community as the mission was then,” said Board President, Patricia Austin.

The center recognizes Juneteenth as an important part of history, sharing the meaning behind it with those who walk through the doors. On June 19, 1865, federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas. Notifying slaves that the Civil War had ended, and they were free. Marking the end of slavery.

“When Major General Granger read order No. 3 to over 250,000 enslaved to let them know that they had been freed over 2 ½ years ago. It was at that point when people began to recognize that they were free. It is the second Independence Day,” said Austin.

In 1979 Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday. But on June17, 2021 President Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law. The legislation recognized Juneteenth as a federal holiday.

“All Americans can feel the power of this day and learn from our history and celebrate progress and grapple with the distance we’ve come but the distance we have to travel,” said President Biden when delivering remarks ahead of the bill signing.

People across the U.S. have celebrated Juneteenth through events year after year since 1866. When freedmen in Texas organized what became the annual celebration of Jubilee Day or Freedom Day.

“It’s an opportunity for education, it’s an opportunity for entertainment and its an opportunity for engagement. You get to know more about one when you engage in the culture in which they exist. Juneteenth allows African Americans to share their cultural aspects, their values, and their customs,” said Austin.

Events in Southwest and Central Virginia:

– Wytheville Training School Cultural Center is hosting a Juneteenth Celebration from 3:30-5:30 p.m. It will include a reenactment of Major General Granger’s Order Number 3, performances by the “Drumbeats” food and more.

– Salvation Army is hosting a diversity festival at the Salvation Army office on Dale Avenue in Roanoke from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. It is free to attend. There will be free food, games and health resources for the community.

– The Annual Juneteenth Celebration for the Town of Clifton Forge will be held at Booker T. Washington Park from 12-6 p.m. The theme this year is peace, love, and togetherness. It will feature speakers, bouncy houses, free food and vendors.

– In Martinsville, several gospel artists will perform at the New College Institute for a Gospel Music Extravaganza and crowning of Mr. and Mrs. Juneteenth. Artists performances include Betsy Haskins, Rev. Bill Charles, The Family Five and more! Admission is $5. The event is sponsored by the Martinsville Henry and Patrick County NAACP.

To see more events in our hometowns, click here.

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