CHARLOTTESVILLE — Charlottesville’s Juneteenth celebration, which drew a few hundred people to the Jefferson School lawn, brought jubilance to the air on Saturday.
People ran into old friends with a hug and a smile. They sat in the shade and took in local musicians while eating off paper plates.
Children, older residents and everyone in between gathered in front of the stage to dance to the music.
Clothes and jewelry were up for sale, and community organizations handed out information about their missions.
Juneteenth commemorates when slaves learned of the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, which declared slaves in the Confederacy free during the Civil War.
The last slaves were informed of the proclamation following the end of the war June 19, 1865, by Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger in Galveston, Texas. The former slaves immediately took to the streets to celebrate, starting the tradition.
Celebrations are held across the country on June 19, which falls on Wednesday this year. So the city’s event was held over the weekend.
“It gives the African-American community and the larger community a chance to celebrate the role of people of color in building Charlottesville,” Jefferson School Director Andrea Douglas said.
The city’s first celebration was in 2000 and started by Tamyra Turner. It was first held at a community center on 9th Street and has grown each year. It eventually moved to Piedmont Virginia Community College before coming to the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center about four years ago.
“We try and keep it fresh and new each year,” Douglas said.
This year’s event was the first since Turner died in January. She was among several people honored on Friday to kick off the celebration.
“Just to know that this was her intention and every year more and more people come,” Mayor Nikuyah Walker said. “This is amazing.”
Community organizer Charles Alexander, also known locally as Alex-Zan, said the event is a chance for “reflection, reverence and paying homage,” to the past.
It’s also a chance to bring residents together to improve the city.
“There has to be a collective effort to improve the community,” he said.
Walker urged the audience to continue meaningful discussions to create change in the community.
She highlighted several initiatives or changes to the city over the past year, including increased affordable housing funding and a business equity fund.
“It’s going to take all of us to come together,” she said, “not just on days like this, but often to make sure change is sustained.”