LYNCHBURG, Va. (WFXR) — Plenty of government facilities and businesses were closed on Monday in observance of Juneteenth — also known as Freedom Day because it commemorates the emancipation of slaves in the U.S. more than 150 years ago.
Juneteenth honors June 19, 1865, the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to free enslaved people more than two years after then-President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
Last year, President Joe Biden signed a bill making Juneteenth an a federal holiday, but it’s been celebrated by countless people for decades.
In fact, the Lynchburg community has observed the holiday for more than 20 years with the help of the Juneteenth Coalition of Central Virginia.
On Saturday, June 18, the organization hosted an event called ‘The Story Behind the Celebration,’ where different performers took to the stage at the Academy Center of the Arts, portraying different historical figures in history, playing music, and dancing while delivering powerful messages.
“Juneteenth is about family and culture, and it’s about history. The main thing it’s about is learning about our history,” said Phyllistine Mosley, the chair of the Juneteenth Coalition of Central Virginia. “…We need to talk. We need to share, and if you don’t know, then ask.”
One act included a 9-year-old author, Joshua Clemons who tells WFXR News that his mother made sure he was aware that Juneteenth is one of the most significant days in American history because it meant that his ancestors were finally freed from slavery.
Clemons’ book, “Clemons Van Forer’s Freedom,” tells the story of a boy who asks his mother about Juneteenth. She goes on to inform him of the hardships of slavery and what it means to be free.
“Juneteenth is important to me because it’s when my ancestors were freed and if my ancestors weren’t freed then I wouldn’t be free,” said Clemons.
Then, on Sunday, June 19, the ‘Pathway to Pride’ was dedicated to African American history in Lynchburg at the Old City Cemetery. The pathway is a brick walkway with plaques sharing more information about black people who were buried there.
The Old City Cemetery is the oldest cemetery in the Commonwealth and is the burial site of about 13,000 African Americans, both enslaved and free.
Plaques are lined along the brick pathway, displaying information about some of the people buried there.
“This is our opportunity to tell the stories of African American people who helped to build our community,” said Denise McDonald, executive director of the Old City Cemetery. “Many of them, we really did not know much about, and oftentimes it’s hard to research them.”
John Hughes IV has ancestors who were buried in the Old City Cemetery urges people to learn about both Black history and American history.
“Education is one of those ways, some of those things that people can’t take away from you, so one of the keys to emancipation and freedom, even in today’s age, is that educational piece,” said Hughes.
The Pathway to Pride is located at the Pride Family grave plot in the Old City Cemetery, which is open from dawn until dusk.
“People who visit think that it’s a Confederate cemetery because there is a Confederate section here,” Hughes added. “In actuality, two-thirds of the residents, that’s what we like to call them, the people who are buried here are African Americans.”
On Monday, June 20 — the day that Juneteenth was officially observed as a federal holiday this year — Lynchburg’s Legacy Museum of African American History remained open, inviting people inside to tour the exhibit on professional Black athletes from Lynchburg and surrounding areas.
“You wouldn’t even think that this area would produce so many professional athletes,” museum guide Paul Dixon told WFXR News.
“It’s such history, and it’s all positive history,” Dixon added. “These people have done positive things.”
The Legacy Museum of African American History is open in the afternoon during the week, with the exception of Monday and Tuesday.