‘When you know your history, you know things connect’: Colonial Williamsburg prepares for Juneteenth

Williamsburg

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (WAVY) — Colonial Williamsburg is preparing to celebrate the Juneteenth holiday with a number of events this weekend.

It is partnering with the City of Williamsburg, William & Mary, and Let Freedom Ring Foundation to offer guests more opportunities to learn about the holiday that commemorates the day enslaved Texans were told they were freed in 1865.

“I would say that the wonderful thing about Juneteenth is it’s education, commemoration, celebration,” said Stephen Seals, who is the program development manager at Colonial Williamsburg as well as an interpreter for the nation builder character James Lafayette. “It is truly a rounded holiday and event. So, coming here, not only are you able to celebrate freedom but the journey for freedom that many Americans took back then and continue to take today.”

Seals says they’ve done events in the past honoring Juneteenth and wanted to incorporate more events last year but couldn’t due to COVID-19.

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“Now that people are back and around again, we hope this expansion will just be the beginning of continuing of the holiday a lot of people aren’t aware of but just as important as all the other commemorations we have here,” he said.

This Saturday, the day of programming will kick off with a live in-person opening ceremony, that can be also streamed online. Other events and activities include music performances, archaeological tours, remembrance exhibits, and a food tasting based on a menu created by culinary historian Michael Twitty.

Seals hopes that people will come out to learn more about Juneteenth to help understand the history of our country.

“My goal here and the thing that is most important is for everyone to see the history of every single type of person that lived here in the past and even now as their history — whether they look like [me] or don’t look like me. That history is shared,” he said. “That makes Juneteenth even important because hopefully it will help many Americans who haven’t seen themselves in these newly freed individuals who were enslaved at the time as Americans or ancestors. But they are, and their stories mean just as much important as the stories we’ve also known or were written down. That’s truly what makes Juneteenth important.”

In recent years, Colonial Williamsburg has worked to tell a broader story of the city, of which the population was more than 50% Black in the 1700s.

Seals says learning about the past is what’s needed in our country because its impacts are still being felt today. He says it’s their duty as a museum to tell that story.

“If you’re not telling them, then you’re not helping Americans understand who you are or why you are. And you have people growing up who don’t understand their history or understand why certain things never need to happen again, or why certain things are connected to things [that happened] when we weren’t around,” he said. “People can easily say, ‘That doesn’t mean anything to me anymore. That was generations ago.’ When you know your history, you know things connect, connect, connect, connect. What happened in the past — and if we’re talking specifically about slavery — that part of the American identity is still a part of our American identity we still have not faced yet.”

Seals hopes the community will take the opportunity to learn — and that can start this Saturday.

“Have difficult conversations with your family and friends. You don’t have to agree. Agreeing isn’t required, but listen. That’s what it’s really about is understanding and if you understand, you can have a better feeling for what you’re thinking connects to all of us. That’s the importance of history. It’s the importance of what you do. It’s the importance of what we as Americans and our duty living in this country.”

For a list of the events and times, click here.

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