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As More Virginians Learn About Juneteenth, How Will They Celebrate?

Under a blue sky a group of singers on stage, in black shirts, sing behind a man with a microphone in a baseball cap.
Jahd Khalil

“How many people are celebrating Juneteenth for the first time today?” the performer on stage asked. At Henrico County’s Dorey Park, several concertgoers raised their hands. The Elebga Folklore Society, the performers, have been celebrating Juneteenth for over 25 years, but many other Virginians have not.

Events for Juneteenth were held across Central Virginia, with many forming their own conception of how the holiday should be celebrated and what the legacy of slavery means today -- and what Juneteenth as a holiday is.

The holiday marks the emancipation of enslaved people. Governor Ralph Northam first declared Juneteenth a state holiday in 2020, but legislation has made it permanent.

“I feel ignorant to that, but I was not aware of it before,” said Tia Rogers. She credited the protests last year with creating an atmosphere in which she learned about the holiday. Her daughter Ashley took part in the demonstrations, and was seated next to Rogers.

“It's been a long time coming and I'm so glad it's a federal holiday now,” Rogers said. “It's really exciting to have it acknowledged now.”

The Virginia African American History Education Commission recommended adding Juneteenth to the Curriculum for first graders, and for Virginia and US History courses, in an August 2020 report.

“That's why we came out: to celebrate something that they don't teach us when we're in these schools from K through 12,” said Antoine Taylor at an event in Richmond’s Byrd Park. He’s seated in the shade, away from the stage but can still hear the music.

“It needs to be inculcated in the overall history of this country,” said Marty Jewell, a former Richmond city councilmember. “We black folk need to take an active role in promulgating that education and making sure it gets there.”

Jahd Khalil is a reporter and producer in Richmond.
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