Juneteenth festival set

Published 10:35 pm 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.


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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 www.juneteenthva.net.