Archived Story

Juneteenth festival set

Published 10:35pm Monday, June 24, 2013

UPDATE: A city spokeswoman says this event does not have a valid event permit because the application was never fully completed. Therefore, the event will not go forward.

An event in Suffolk this weekend will celebrate the anniversary of the end of slavery in the United States.

On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, with news of the Emancipation Proclamation. That was nearly two and a half years after the document had taken effect Jan. 1, 1863.

Theories vary on why it took so long for slavery to end in Texas. Regardless, “Juneteenth” has been celebrated with festivals in most parts of the country almost from the beginning.


JuneteenthVA founder Sheri Bailey began putting on the festival locally in 1997. In addition to producing the festival, her company also stages plays for schoolchildren and museums in the area on the impact of slavery and its aftermath.

The first festival was held in Suffolk, at the former Tidewater Community College Portsmouth campus. It moved around to other cities and came back to Suffolk a few times before beginning a hiatus several years ago.

Bailey hopes the return of Juneteenth — and its location in Suffolk — will be permanent.

“I hope to keep it in Suffolk,” she said. “Moving every year made it difficult for people to keep up with us.”

Bailey was raised near Suffolk and said the city is an ideal location because of its history.

“It’s a good setting for the conversation,” she said, noting Suffolk’s many significant Civil War sites, its location near the site of Nat Turner’s 1831 slave rebellion in Southampton County and its playing host to part of the Great Dismal Swamp, where many escaped slaves took up refuge. “There’s all this history that has not been unpacked and dealt with.”

The festival, to be held Saturday at Bennett’s Creek Park, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., will include African drum and dance demonstrations, an African martial arts expert named Karl West giving demonstrations, a yoga workshop and more. There will be 19th-century games, vendors, community resource information and the taping of oral histories.

“There are a lot of people with that information, and when they die, it’s gone forever,” Bailey said of the oral history.

Also on site will be a casting call for those who want to participate in the plays presented by the JuneteenthVA company.

“We’re looking for new talent of all types,” Bailey said.

Bailey said this year’s festival is dedicated to her brother, who died May 17 at age 50 from what she said were preventable causes after he lost his job and no longer had health insurance.

“In a country this rich and this powerful, for people to die from preventable causes is shameful,” she said.

In order to truly overcome the legacy of slavery, she added, today’s generation must “solve the problems it has led to.”

For more information on the Juneteenth festival, visit

  • mab1960

    Historically speaking:

    “According to colonial records, the first slave owner in the United States was a black man.

    Prior to 1655 there were no legal slaves in the colonies, only indentured servants. All masters were required to free their servants after their time was up. Seven years was the limit that an indentured servant could be held. Upon their release they were granted 50 acres of land. This included any Negro purchased from slave traders. Negros were also granted 50 acres upon their release.

    Anthony Johnson was a Negro from modern-day Angola. He was brought to the US to work on a tobacco farm in 1619. In 1622 he was almost killed when Powhatan Indians attacked the farm. 52 out of 57 people on the farm perished in the attack. He married a female black servant while working on the farm.

    When Anthony was released he was legally recognized as a “free Negro” and ran a successful farm. In 1651 he held 250 acres and five black indentured servants. In 1654, it was time for Anthony to release John Casor, a black indentured servant. Instead Anthony told Casor he was extending his time. Casor left and became employed by the free white man Robert Parker.”

    To read the rest of the article please check out the below website:


    I honestly enjoy history…there are things both good and bad that we, as a nation, should be both proud and ashamed of. History should be presented without bias…let the chips fall where they may.

    These are my thoughts for the day…for what they are worth.



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  • dollyb12

    I for one am glad the event will not occur in light of not having the proper permit. Why can’t the slavery issue be put in the school books to teach the young pupils that slavery occurred and just let it go? I had nothing to do with slavery and, according to media reports, white people are now in the minority in the United States. Today, there are problems in society that need to be fixed, but why would slavery be responsible for what I see happening in this country and around the world?

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    • Lovebug

      I would have to agree. Its like beating your head against the way day after day. It happened long ago and it does need to be put to rest. There are so many young people growing up these days that clearly have slavery and what happened so many years ago beaten into their brains so much that they actually speak of it as if they were slaves themselves or their parents were. NONE of them know what it is to be a slave nor will they. Its so beyond time to let it go but people like this lady and the NAACP won’t let it go. Heck she even seemed to think the City was going to fund some money for her event. Time to let it go people. Spend time on things that are currently taking place in this time and age!

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