Gloucester comes together to celebrate Juneteenth


GLOUCESTER COUNTY, Va. (WAVY) — Folks in Gloucester County are looking forward to a countywide celebration this weekend.

It’ll commemorate history near and far on Saturday, June 19.

Saturday, also known as Juneteenth, marks the 156th year since federal troops arrived in Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. Freedom finally came to hundreds of thousands of enslaved people, nearly three years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the order.

“Juneteenth was something that we didn’t know anything about,” said Kathleen Kellar, of the Gloucester civic group Circle Up Middle Peninsula. “It’s a group [that is] predominantly white.”

“We had no knowledge of that [Juneteenth] as well as other historical events that had occurred that we were not taught about in school because it wasn’t in our history books,” says Kellar. She also just recently learned of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, where historians say a white mob killed
between 75 and 300 Black people, left thousands homeless and destroyed a prosperous community of Black business owners and families.

Kellar says she and other members of Circle Up wanted to know more about Juneteenth and other interests of their Black neighbors.

“Many of us started to reach out and we started to — we joined the NAACP,” she said.

They worked with Black leaders like the Rev. E. Randolph Graham, pastor of First United Baptist Church, on the first county-wide Juneteenth celebration last year.

“We planned this event in two weeks,” said Graham. “And the response was tremendous.”

Dr. Wesley Wilson, a member of the Woodville Rosenwald School Foundation lent his expertise and knowledge of Gloucester’s history.

The foundation is working to preserve the history of one of the county’s last remaining schools for Black residents, built during the early 1900s when people of color were banned from attending white schools.

A foundation headed by philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, CEO of Sears Roebuck and Co., teamed up with Gloucester residents and others to build the Woodville Rosenwald School, and several others in the county.

Historians say the Rosenwald school project built more than 5,000 schools, shops and teacher homes in the U.S. to educate African American children in the South during the early 1900s. Rosenwald generally paid half the cost, and community members would pay the rest.

Wilson says it’s important for Gloucester residents to know another chapter of American history.

“The proclamation was three years late in coming to Texas,” said Wilson. “These folks in Texas had to know that they had been legally freed but were still being maintained in an enslaved environment.”

“This presented an opportunity to teach our young folks and engage some of our older folks about Juneteenth and our history,” Graham added.

Graham’s church and about a dozen others are members of the historic umbrella organization, GURA, the Gloucester Union Relief Association, founded in 1866. All are expected to be represented Saturday.

Speakers will commemorate the day, and Graham says the Gloucester/Mathews male chorus will perform. Children will be front and center with poetry and other reflections.

And, yes, all participants will be mindful of the pandemic. The Three Rivers Health District will be on-site to offer COVID-19 vaccinations. If you have not completed your vaccinations, organizers ask that you wear a mask and maintain social distancing.

The GURA- Juneteenth festivities happen this Saturday, June 19, from 5:30-7 p.m. at the First United Baptist Church, 6188 George Washington Memorial Highway in Gloucester.

For more information, contact Sheila Crowley at 540-907-2993.

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