IIn 2020, Governor Ralph Northam issued an executive order proclaiming Juneteenth as a Virginia state holiday. Later that year, the General Assembly unanimously voted in special session to make the holiday permanent on the state calendar.
The bill’s language reads:
June 19 — Juneteenth to commemorate the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas, the last of the former Confederate States of America to abolish slavery, and to recognize the significant roles and many contributions of African Americans to the Commonwealth and the nation.
As discussed in an earlier post, over the decades various dates have been celebrated in recognition of enslavement’s demise in the United States. Regardless of the date chosen, earlier celebrations were marked with speeches, parades, and gatherings. In recent years, commemorations have added community service projects, education and engagement opportunities, art shows, and historical reenactments, along with those traditional elements.
In one way or another, whether as written or spoken word or as paintings or performance, art has been a part of the remembrance of emancipation’s long overdue arrival. In October of 1890, The Richmond Planet published a poem entitled “The Emancipation Day.” The author’s name is not given, but it could possibly be the work of renowned editor John Mitchell, Jr. The poem reads:
O, hail! The fast approaching day,
Our nation’s glorious cause,
When we united hand and hand,
Shall join the great applause.
Just 27 years ago,
Our parents bore in pain,
A yoke, which held the nation down,
The galling slavery chain.
They bore the chains in cold and storm,
Nor murmured on the way,
Never anticipating once,
To see this blessed day.
Ne’er did they dream of comforts, homes;
Of schools or churches grand,
Where they might learn and worship God;
In this bright sunny land.
Their children learn to read and write,
Why that would bring disgrace
Upon the ones, who held us slaves,
The suffering Negro Race.
But God, the judge of all mankind,
Looked down from heaven’s throne,
He heard the prayers of suffering men,
And pitied every groan.
He visited northern homes,
And kindled there a fire,
Whose light sent out an awful glare,
Sending its flames up higher.
When the hearts of northern men,
Would not consent to yield,
To southern flagrant unjust laws,
They marched upon the field.
Four years of bloody war and strife,
Of hunger, cold, and pain,
And Lincoln, our beloved martyr,
Cut loose the slavery chain.
And soon we’ll meet with thankful hearts,
A homage just, to pay
A glorious cause,
We’ll celebrate; Emancipation Day
Lincoln who left this earthly scene,
To join the heavenly lay
Will, with the angels, celebrate,
In each succeeding year to come,
With flowers and garlands gay,
May we be found united still,
To celebrate this day.
Our race has suffered much and long,
But strong and true as steel,
We’ve men and women able now,
To rise and front the field.
To carry on a nation’s work,
In every sphere of life,
Well may join to celebrate,
Nor fear the future strife.
Virginia’s public libraries, long hubs of community connection, have developed educational and engaging adult and children’s programming around Juneteenth. Here are just a few of the public library programs scheduled around the commonwealth. Check your local library’s events calendar to see what programs might be happening in your area. Stay safe and “join to celebrate” in your community!
Chesterfield County Public Library is running three StoryWalks for children and families for Juneteenth. StoryWalks promote literacy, reading, health, exercise, and movement in communities and neighborhoods. They consist of reading materials posted along a defined path or walkway. See links for recommended ages and location details. These StoryWalks are available between June 18 and July 2, 2021 (CCPL Events Calendar).
Henrico County Public Library will join in the Juneteenth Celebrations in Dorey Park, starting at 1 PM on June 19, featuring vendors, food trucks, and live music. The Library of Virginia will also have a table there, shared with the Virginia Museum of History & Culture for the Unknown No Longer project, now available as part of Virginia Untold: The African American Narrative, and other LVA resources.
Jefferson Madison Regional Libraries, serving Charlottesville and Central Virginia, hosts two virtual events to celebrate Juneteenth. Register for Neglected History: Lives of Enslaved Laborers on the Monticello, Montpelier and Highland Plantations panel discussion on June 17, JMRL is hosting a panel discussion focused on the lives of the enslaved populations on the Monticello, Montpelier, and Highland plantations.
Register for Forgotten History of Pen Park: Unmarked Graves of Enslaved Persons on June 22 to learn more about the recently discovered unmarked graves outside the enclosures of the cemetery at Pen Park.
The Newport News Public Library and the Say It Loud Project invite you to join in Juneteenth celebration of hope and emancipation. Live music by local band Hostile Animals and the
Norfolk State University Choir on June 19th, 2021 at 110 Main Street, Newport News. It is also the opening event for the Until Freedom Comes exhibit at the Main Street Library.
Northumberland Public Library’s Mobile Library will take part in the Juneteenth Fair at Rice’s Hotel / Hughlett’s Tavern in the Historic Heathsville Town Square from 4:30 – 7:30 PM on June 19. This event will feature food, vendors, music, children’s activities, and free COVID vaccinations!
Join the Tazewell County Public Library at the Head Start school (rain location: Nuckolls Hall) on June 19 for a Juneteenth celebration. The library will display books from their collections by Virginia African-American authors as well as local African-American history, such as historic photographs of Tazewell County citizens. A perfect time to get a library card, explore summer reading, and learn more about the library’s partnership with Feeding America: Southwest Virginia.