By: J. Chevont’e Alexander
For the second year, the City of Petersburg will sponsor a Juneteenth festival, which celebrates freedom, fathers, faith, family and friends for all. Brian C. Little, Sr., Petersburg’s Director of Cultural Affairs, Arts & Tourism, sees this as an opportunity to give back to one of America’s oldest free Black communities. “People of all nationalities should join in this celebration of Freedom as the city commemorates the sesquicentennial of this freedom in Black history,” says Little. “Freedom reaches further than a color line. It also unites people of different backgrounds and celebrates humanity.”
Juneteenth began as a holiday created 150 years ago by slaves freed from bondage. President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, but it took close to three more years before the full emancipation of America’s slaves was completed. Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free.
Join the City of Petersburg for this celebration on the historic Pocahontas Island! The City of Petersburg will celebrate this freedom and our fathers, granddads, uncles and those special men in our lives during the Juneteenth Freedom Festival on Sunday, June 21 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
“We are excited to host the Juneteenth Celebration again in Petersburg on Pocahontas Island,” comments William E. Johnson, III, City Manager. “It is a time for the city to really showcase our special history and the legacy that Petersburg has as a community, and it is a great way to celebrate the past and the future with the special father and sons celebration.”
Pocahontas Island is one of the hidden gems of Petersburg. By the 1800s, Pocahontas Island had one of the United States’ largest known populations of free Blacks residing in its neighborhood. It was a place for commerce, integration and freedom as it was home to the Underground Railroad. Petersburg will recognize this American treasure as it commemorates that 150th anniversary of the American Civil War and Emancipation.
The event will start at 1:45 p.m. with the unveiling of a commemorative permanent historic marker from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources for the legacy of Pocahontas Island.
“The freedom celebration commemorates the end of the American Civil War and slavery and the beginning of Emancipation. Even though April officially marks this historical event, many people in the south didn’t know that they were free until June 19.” said Little. “Activities that day will allow guests to enjoy this history through art, music, food, tours and more.”
This year’s event will be packed with a strong punch of talent, both local and international. Locally, the festival will showcase Blues Flash Band, Mosby Memorial Mass Choir, James Saxmo Gates and Cora Harvey Armstrong. Our Master of Ceremony for the day is the renowned radio personality Cavell Phillips.
The event will also bring an international feature, serving as host to Cuban artist Salvador and Surinamese artist Adiante Franszoon. These two gentlemen set the stage for bringing the festival to a larger audience and allowing the region to experience a special treat as Salvador unveils an emancipation mural and Adiante shows people how to carve wood and make unique items for the home, or gallery. There will be other crafters from the region joining these two artists to round out the cultural arts offerings for the day.
Ezibu Muntu African Dance Company will lead guests to the stage from the historic marker ceremony. That’s where Salvador will be primed and ready to unveil his artwork and dedicate it to the City of Petersburg. His mural will depict the African experience in the Americas through images of drums, masks and other symbolism. The artwork will rest in the City’s collection and will be on public display beginning in July at the Petersburg Area Transit building on Washington Street.
Juneteenth FREEDOM Festival Program
1:30 p.m. Drum call
1:45 p.m. Dedication of Pocahontas historic marker
2:00 p.m. Processional led by Ezibu Muntu African Dance Company
2:15 p.m. Welcome and Prayer
2:20 p.m. Unveiling of Emancipation Mural – Salvador
2:30 p.m. Ezibu Muntu African Dance Company
3:00 p.m. Scavenger Hunt (gather around check-in table)
3:15 p.m. Cora Harvey Armstrong
3:30 p.m. Petersburg Ballet
3:45 p.m. William Green & the Mosby Memorial Mass Choir
4:15 p.m. Blues Flash Band
5:00 p.m. James “Saxmo” Gates & Desiree Roots
An exhibit by the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia, Pocahontas Island Black History Museum, and historic tours led by Petersburg Historic Foundation will also be available during the event.
Other events include:
-Stories of Freedom, Ancestors of Our Past: Dylan Pritchett, a native of Williamsburg, is a full time storyteller, taking his African and African-American folktales throughout the country.
– Through the Eyes of Coretta: Theresa G is a Christian Entertainer and a Living History Storyteller. Her wide range of characters includes Rosa Parks, Elizabeth Keckley and Sally Hemmings. Ms.G has traveled across the country presenting her one-woman play, Through the Eyes of Coretta.
– Ezibu Muntu, African Dance and Cultural Foundation is a professional organization of dancers, drummers, entertainers and other individuals dedicated to invoking a better-educated, positive understanding of African culture, values, traditions and the cultural arts as a whole. Through exposing the community-at-large to educational and artistic programming based on African culture and art forms, Ezibu Muntu hopes to enrich the diversity of the community and reintroduce basic African concepts of family and community into society by informing and exhibiting.
– Vintage Dawn is a trio that has only been in existence a few months. They choose vintage because of its relations to fine wine and dawn because of a new day. Individually, they are veteran musicians who have joined together to produce jazz, gospel, R & B and country music.
– Ban Caribe is an exciting blend of Latin, Caribbean and Soulful Rhythm and Blues. Music based on the Afro-Clave all held together with pulsating percussion. The musical compositions and arrangements are spiritually inspired by the rhythmic beats and chants of African music.
– Pocahontas Island Museum is a stop on the Underground Railroad and home to a treasure trove of artifacts and other historical items of interest that displays over 200 years of Black history. Black History and Civil War expert, Richard Stewart is the museum’s founder and orator who delights in taking museum visitors on an oral journey of Black history in Petersburg.
– Special Balloon Designs with Uncle Curt entertains at parties of all kinds. His balloon designs have been featured in international publications for Balloon Artists and enjoyed countless times by adults as well as children!
New to the festival this year is an “old school” games area where hopscotch, cards, chess and other favorites might be found. This was a part of the heart of entertainment for many in the mid-1900s and it’s still a favorite among recreational activities today. So be sure to bring your game face on and enjoy the fun. The children’s area will have inflatables, and make and take items for youth as well as some favorite games too.
The rain date for this event is Sunday, June 28. This event is open to everyone to attend. For more information, please call (804 733-2430).
Other Juneteenth events across the area:
Richmond’s Cultural Ambassador, Elegba Folklore Society will present Juneteenth 2015, A Freedom Celebration on June 19-21. This year the Society is collaborating, again, with Baltimore’s Ile Ise Ejiogbe Ifá Temple.
The Symposium will be held 6:00–10:00 p.m., Friday, June 19, on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University in the Academic Learning Commons, 1000 Floyd Avenue 23284, Room 1107. Author and activist, Bobby Seale, is the keynote speaker.
The historic Manchester Dock, 1308 Brander Street 23224, on the south bank of the James River, was an entry port for Africans being brought into the Americas to be sold into slavery, and it is the site for In Reflection, 4:00-11:00 p.m., Saturday, June 20.
On Sunday, June 21, the Esu Festival happens at Richmond’s African Burial Ground, 16th & Broad Streets, 4:00-7:00 p.m. This year’s theme is in keeping with the 2015 observance of the 150th year after the end of slavery in 1865 — and Self Determination. One hundred years after the end of enslavement, America was again focused on a movement for civil rights in 1965 — key occurrences only 50 years ago and where, today, Black Lives Matter.
For tickets or more information visit www.efsinc.org, visit Elegba Folklore Society’s Cultural Center, 101 E. Broad Street in the downtown RVA Arts District or contact the Elegba Folklore Society at (804) 644-3900, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.