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Celebration, discussion, remembrance and a trail walk mark a holiday about the end of a painful chapter in American history 

click to enlarge A Richmond street fills with people during Emancipation Day in 1905. Elegba Folklore Society’s Janine Bell says Juneteenth is a reminder of freedom and liberation.

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A Richmond street fills with people during Emancipation Day in 1905. Elegba Folklore Society’s Janine Bell says Juneteenth is a reminder of freedom and liberation.

Juneteenth finished what Independence Day started.

As Frederick Douglass said, summing up feelings of formerly enslaved people: "The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine."

Juneteenth celebrates the day when Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger sailed into Galveston Harbor in Texas, issuing a proclamation of freedom to people who didn't know that Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation officially had freed them two and a half years earlier.

The date of the proclamation, June 19, 1865, formed the holiday's name.

In the 153 years since, all but five states officially began recognizing Juneteenth, although it has no legal holiday status. The event in Richmond is organized by the Elegba Folklore Society from June 15-17, with the theme "399 … on the Eve of Great Substance" — a reference to 1619 as the beginning of enslavement in British North America.

The three-day event serves as a reminder of something the group's president, Janine Bell, says is a God-given right: the state of freedom and liberation. "Yet we're still trying to achieve that sense of prowess, magic and identity that's grounded in personal freedom," she says.

Festivities will kick off Friday evening at Pine Camp Arts Center with a symposium led by professor Kaba Hiawatha Kamene, a documentarian and educator. He was invited to discuss how blacks have gotten to where they are now, Bell says, but also to imagine and plan what can be accomplished by focusing inward. It's the only ticketed event of the weekend.

Day two of Juneteenth has been dubbed Independence Day Our Way, and begins at 3 p.m. at the Manchester docks. It includes an afternoon and evening of music, comedy, a Get Woke Youth Summit on cultural education, heritage crafts for children, jump rope and hula hoop contests.

The day culminates with the annual torch-lit night walk on the Trail of Enslaved Americans, the path that chronicles the history of the trade of enslaved people from Africa to Virginia until 1775, and away from Virginia, especially Richmond, to locations mainly in the deep South until 1865.

For those unable to walk the trail, GRTC buses will ride along its path so that all can experience it, from the docks across Mayo's Bridge past the slave auction houses to the Reconciliation statue and ending at First African Baptist Church, where buses will escort walkers back to their cars in Manchester.

On Sunday, Homage to the Ancestors, featuring a ceremony, drumming and song, will be held at Richmond's African Burial Ground.

"It's a chance to experience African spirituality," Bell says, "one of the first things that was taken away from us because it was a source of connectivity and empowerment."

Attendees are encouraged to wear white, the color of spirituality, or African dress, but Bell says she doesn't care if people come in pajamas — just that they come.

"People are invited to bring offerings for the ancestral altars," she says. "That's our way of saying thank you to our ancestors and acknowledging that we know they are present with us now. It's a way to show that their lives were not in vain."

Those who choose to see Juneteenth as merely an African-American holiday are missing the point, according to Kamene. All Americans should want to celebrate the symbolic end of a chapter in national history none of us can be proud of.

"This is a holiday not just for African-American people," Kamene explains. "And that's because it's a part of American history, not African — American history, and that history has never been more relevant than in 2018." S

"Juneteenth 2018, a Freedom Celebration," runs June 15-17 at various locations. Call 644-3900 or visit efsinc.org.

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