Juneteenth celebration at Booker T. Washington National Monument returns

Published: Jun. 16, 2022 at 2:30 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Many Juneteenth events will be held across our area and organizers plan to celebrate its second year as an official federal holiday.

Juneteenth commemorates the day enslaved people in Texas learned they were free, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

One of America’s most famous stories about freedom began in Franklin County where Booker T. Washington was born and freed.

“Booker T. Washington took his first breath of freedom along with being born here, and the 4 million people took their first breath of freedom in 1865. So this is a commemoration of that at the site. It is a good place for discussion about race and relation and context to the time period and today--- and the future of freedom. How fragile freedom is,” said Besty Haynes a park ranger at Booker T. Washington’s National Monument.

Haynes and John Mitchell work at Booker T. Washington’s National Monument in Hardy, Virginia—the place he took his first breath of life and freedom.

“This place is about the story of freedom,” said Haynes. “We think he found out about April 1865. So, the story of freedom is critical here, and Booker T. Washington had a vision for what’s next, what are we going to do next once we’re free, and that’s something that all of us can ask ourselves. How important is freedom? Why is it important to all of us as Americans, and what can we do about it?” asked Haynes.

The site includes the reconstructed cabin where Booker lived with his mother and two siblings, other reconstructed farm buildings, a heritage garden, and a hiking trail.

“They didn’t have telephones or pagers or texting. So, they rang the bell. And this bell on the day that Booker T. Washington found out he was freed was a bell that was rung to let them know that the Union soldier had come to the plantation to let the enslaved people know that they were free. And that was their first moment of freedom. So it was sort of like, just music to their ears,” said Haynes.

“And for us Juneteenth. The music is the joy,” John Mitchell a ranger at Booker T. Washington’s National Monument.

More than a century later, the bell still rings alongside a new tune called hope.

“And for me, that’s what this park means to me. If you can come here and realize there was a young black kid that said, ‘I want to be something and I’m going to be something’ and that’s exactly what he did. He went out and got it,” said Mitchell.

Booker T. Washington was born into slavery but once freed, he later took charge of building multiple educational institutions and was an advisor to politicians including U.S. presidents.

“Let’s celebrate it somewhere. Let, let’s go out and support somebody doing Juneteenth. If it’s not here in Roanoke and Lynchburg or wherever, go support somebody this. This is again our celebration. I said this is outside; we always asking for something. We got it. So, let’s celebrate it,” said Mitchell.

Booker T. Washington National Monument is 22 miles southeast of Roanoke.

After a two-year hiatus from a live event due to COVID, the Booker T. Washington National Monument will host its 21st Juneteenth Celebration of Freedom Saturday, June 18, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The event will also feature a gospel concert that will feature seven well-known regional gospel music groups scheduled throughout the day.

Park rangers will host Freedom Tours that seek to educate visitors about Juneteenth and the related histories of slavery, emancipation, The Civil War and Reconstruction through of the lens of Booker T. Washington’s life and legacy.

Free, onsite blood pressure and diabetes assessments will be provided by Carilion Clinic representatives.

The event will be held outside, so participants are asked to dress appropriately for the weather and come prepared. There will be tented space provided at the gospel concert stage area, but participants are encouraged to bring their own pop-up tents and umbrellas for shade and blankets or portable chairs for lawn seating. Food vendors will be selling a variety of food, drinks, and desserts at this event.

For more information, call 540-721-2094. Visit the Booker T. Washington National Monument website at www.nps.gov/bowa.

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