Newport News celebrates Juneteenth

Jordan Crawford | 6/24/2014, 3:19 p.m.
The Newport News Farmers Market played host to lots of dancing, music, food and children’s activities for the city's recent Juneteenth celebration..

Over 150 people gathered in downtown Newport News to celebrate Juneteenth, a holiday with a vast history but limited recognition among much of the country.

Juneteenth is the commemoration of June 19, 1865, when Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, and freed the last enslaved people in America. President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, but the executive order was largely ignored in the South until Union forces showed up to enforce the freeing of the slaves.

Shauna Cherry, an organizer with the Downtown Newport News Merchants and Neighbors Association, said Saturday’s event is about education as much as it is about celebration — the majority of the people who had turned out weren't familiar with the holiday, Cherry said.

It was a day of equal parts jubilation and reflection. The Newport News Farmers Market played host to lots of dancing, music, food and children’s activities.

For Tevin Fairley of Newport News, Juneteenth represents a new life and a new beginning for his ancestors and a better life and future for himself and his family.

“The reading of the Emancipation Proclamation at the beginning of the event was really very emotional for me,” said Fairley. “I actually put myself in the mental state of my ancestors and all the other slaves who’d heard they were finally free. That marked the beginning of my people being able to grab hold of this ‘American dream’ we all talk about.”

Denise Bryant of Newport News said it was sad to think that some people were held as property for more than a year after slavery was abolished in America.

“Just thinking about that brings up a lot of emotions as an African-American person who has the opportunity to do a whole lot that they couldn’t do,” Bryant said.

Nau’reen Johnson of Hampton looks forward to anything dealing with Africans and African-American history.

“I just get so excited to learn more about my history, our history,” she said.