Williamsburg commemorates Juneteenth 2020

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The Lemon Project will be is currently working on building a memorial for African Americans enslaved by the College. COURTESY PHOTO/ wm.edu

The College of William and Mary in conjunction with the York-James City-Williamsburg area NAACP and the City of Williamsburg will be organizing a Juneteenth celebration this summer, in June 2020.

Juneteenth recognizes the end of slavery in the United States and observes June 19, 1865 as the date of emancipation for African American slaves. On this day, Union soldiers announced news of the Emancipation Proclamation in Texas. Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom, community and accomplishment in the African American community.

Juneteenth has been celebrated as another Independence Day in certain communities for years, and the Williamsburg area is now embracing an opportunity to be a part of the observance and commemoration.

Lemon Project Director Jody Lynn Allen described the event’s impact on the local area and its growing national recognition.

“It shows that we are open to growing and doing new things,” Allen said. “We’re open to listening to not only the local community but listening to the national community because Juneteenth celebrations have happened over the years for a long time, but they’re starting to happen more frequently in different places. So, I think this is in response to the history and also a call throughout our area and throughout the country to understand and to recognize these celebrations.”

The celebration will involve not only the members of the Williamsburg community, but the College as well.

Allen emphasized the importance of universal education of this holiday and its history.

“It’s part of William and Mary’s, and any campus’s, role or responsibility is to educate,” Allen said.  “And so this is part of the teaching and education process not only for people who are on the campus, but also the community.”

The event in Williamsburg will take place June 19, 2020, and will be a celebratory day including music, food and performances. The event is expected to take place near the planned Memorial to African Americans Enslaved by the College. The memorial was designed by William Sendor ’11 and is entitled “Hearth,” depicting work for enslaved people, as well as congregation.

Williamsburg City Council member Benming Zhang ’16 J.D. ’20 spoke on the significance of this holiday throughout the community.

“The City has a vibrant and significant African American narrative that extends beyond the walls of the College,” Zhang said in an email. “We in the City have been long overdue in telling those stories, and a lot of those stories have come hand-in-hand with the College’s history, too. It is just as important that our greater community understands, appreciates, and observes a more complete and rich historical perspective.”

“The City has a vibrant and significant African American narrative that extends beyond the walls of the College,” Zhang said in an email. “We in the City have been long overdue in telling those stories, and a lot of those stories have come hand-in-hand with the College’s history, too. It is just as important that our greater community understands, appreciates, and observes a more complete and rich historical perspective.”

Zhang added that the memorial and celebration is especially appropriate given the rich American history of Williamsburg and its surrounding areas.

“We are told that Thomas Jefferson would later use his college experiences from Williamsburg to author the ideals inscribed within Declaration of Independence ‘that all men are created equal’,” Zhang said. “… Thus, I think it is befitting, appropriate, and long overdue that we tell a more complete story of American independence. That Juneteenth represents another landmark chapter in America’s struggle and aspirations to fulfill the ideals laid out in the Declaration of Independence.”

The memorial and the Juneteenth commemoration align with many goals of the Lemon Project. This celebration represents an ongoing effort to acknowledge the role of African Americans in the establishment of the College and the Williamsburg community.

Alison Gray ’20, a student involved with The Lemon Project, explained that Juneteenth aligns with the goals of the Lemon Project.

“I think it’s important for the Lemon Project to commemorate Juneteenth because our mission is to rectify the wrongs perpetrated against African Americans by William & Mary,” Gray said in an email. “An incredibly important part of rectifying these wrongs is recognizing the history that has been erased and bringing it to the forefront to be remembered and memorialized.”

The Lemon Project is dedicated to researching the College’s history involving slavery, as well as its present and future ties with the African American community.

“Juneteenth is sort of a way to recognize the end of slavery, and so it fits into our goals and teaches us about the past, but also enhances our present and strengthens the future,” Allen said.  “I think as we get these stories out there, it will only, I think, positively impact our future as we move forward as a community and as a campus.”

Members of the Lemon Project are on the planning committee for Juneteenth and will be involved in the planning of the program, working alongside others to make suggestions about events for the commemoration and celebration.

“William & Mary’s campus was built by enslaved people,” Gray said. “It’s important to understand the oppression and trauma that enslaved people endured in the spaces that we now occupy on campus, and it’s just as important understand moments in enslaved people’s lives that mattered to them, like emancipation. So I think celebrating Juneteenth greatly adds to the Lemon Project’s effort to commemorate and memorialize the lives of these people.”

Currently, a committee comprised of Williamsburg community members, faculty, students and staff is involved in planning the event. The committee is chaired by Chief Diversity Officer Chon Glover, and the group has been planning since last fall.

“I think it will encourage students to learn more about African American history and to reflect on the history that W&M carries as well,” Gray said.  “Although a lot of students will be away for the summer, I hope everyone will get a chance to visit campus for the celebration.”

The city of Williamsburg, as well as the York-James City-Williamsburg area NAACP are also heavily involved in the celebration.

“Ultimately, I am optimistic that we all spur frank and much-needed dialogues and conversations about race and our institution’s histories,” Zhang said. “I know that the City Council will continue to work hand-in-hand with the NAACP and William & Mary to promote and to encourage this collaborative celebration. It reflects the unprecedented strength of the City and College’s relationship that has grown stronger over the years.”

Ultimately, the College will share this inaugural Juneteenth celebration with its entire regional community, as well as the history and tradition that surrounds it.

“Juneteenth recognizes the freedom from centuries of bondage, and so it’s important to recognize that also within the larger community, within the African American community, acknowledging that this was a turning point, and that we don’t forget it, that we don’t forget where we come from because that’s always important,” Allen said.

“Juneteenth recognizes the freedom from centuries of bondage, and so it’s important to recognize that also within the larger community, within the African American community, acknowledging that this was a turning point, and that we don’t forget it, that we don’t forget where we come from because that’s always important,” Allen said.