Juneteenth: Churches, locals join together to celebrate historic moment

Ed. — This originally appeared in print in the July 5, 2019, edition.


VIRGINIA BEACH — The community gathered at New Hope Baptist Church to celebrate Juneteenth on Saturday, June 22. 

“This is the first Juneteenth in the city of Virginia Beach that was sponsored by two churches,” said Mary Dotson, co-director of the event. “That’s why it’s important. That’s why it’s history making.”

Juneteenth is the celebration of when Union troops brought word that the Civil War was over and slaves were freed in Texas on June 19, 1865, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth commemorates the ending of slavery in the U.S., according to Juneteenth.com. 

The gathering in Virginia Beach at New Hope Baptist was organized with Little Piney Grove Baptist Church in Creeds.

“It is an activity for everyone,” Dotson said. “This is a diverse city that we live in, and, the more we get to know each other through culture and other activities, it is fantastic to help the city to grow even more of love and kindness for one another.”

“I love the connection that’s going on,” said Rita H. Jones, co-director of the event.

Vendors lined the main hall of the church, where traditional African music played in the background. Eight-year-old Damian Johnson played the “beat of the drums” at the beginning of the celebration, setting the scene for the rest of the program.

It featured a number of guest speakers, including from the African American Cultural Center of Virginia Beach. The room came alive as dancers moved to the beat of drums and people of all ages demonstrated traditional African dances.

Jones said it was a blessing to work with Dotson. 

“I’ve learned a whole lot of things that I didn’t get in school,” she said. “It has been awesome.”

The churches hope to hold the event again next year.

“Oh my gracious, we have been working on this for the last six months,” said Jones. “It’s been a lot of hard work – enjoyable, nerve-wracking, but enjoyable and well-worth the effort to put in this. I am elated that it turned out as well as it did. …

“We are trying to make history for this and to have this building as a national holiday, because we are all fighters,” Jones said. “We are one quilt, but we are many threads, and we connect to make this one quilt.”

© 2019 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

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