Congratulations to AACC community member Mary Dotson, and her Faith-based partners for hosting their 1st Juneteenth Celebration!. Mary Dotson is one of our historic African American neighborhoods members featured on the recently commissioned AACC's Public Artwork: "Portraits from a Place of Grace" at 744 Hampshire Lane, AACC will also have a booth so do stop by. Please join us and bring the family in supporting this special event.
Earlier this year, Mary Dotson asked a young family member what she thought was a simple history question: What is Juneteenth? She was shocked to get a blank stare in a return.
The June 19 holiday marks the day in 1865 when slaves in Galveston, Texas, finally learned that the Civil War was over and they were free. While President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation more than two years earlier, word hadn’t reached those last slaves until Union Maj. Gordon Granger’s announcement.
“That really stuck in my heart, that the schools hadn’t taught anything about this,” Dotson says. “I thought, ‘We’ve got to do something.’ We live in a diverse community, and we need to educate and understand each other in order to build trust, come together and grow stronger.”
Dotson, a member of New Hope Baptist Church in Virginia Beach and a 60-year city resident, responded by organizing a free church event for the community.
On June 22, New Hope will host a four-hour Juneteenth Celebration, working in partnership with Little Piney Grove Baptist Church and with support from other local predominantly African American churches.
The end of slavery wasn’t a one-time act. After Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, there weren’t enough Union soldiers to enforce the order throughout Confederate territories, explains Robert C. Watson, an assistant professor at Hampton University who specializes in African American and Latin American history. The 13th Amendment, which officially abolished slavery nationwide, wasn’t ratified until 1865.
Until recently, Juneteenth gatherings have occurred largely west of the Mississippi River; more eastern states such as Virginia have tended to recognize Emancipation Day, which marks the April 16, 1862, abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. But knowledge and celebration of Juneteenth is growing, Watson says.
“It helps all of us understand and appreciate one of the major chapters in American history, as it pertains to race,” he said. “We have to know where we have been in order to know where we are going. I believe that it should be a part of the social studies curriculum.”
New Hope Baptist’s event will feature a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation by a choir member and lessons on the significance of Juneteenth, along with African praise dancers, music, poetry readings, a pig pickin’ lunch and children’s activities such as face painting, coloring and history-themed word games.
Organizers have invited local politicians, business leaders and police officers to attend, along with Hampton Roads residents. They ask guests to wear red, white and blue, the colors of both a special Juneteenth flag and the United States flag.
“We want this event to look very diverse, but also very united,” Dotson says. “This is everyone’s history.”