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Jefferson School African American Heritage Center’s 2022 Juneteenth celebration will feature a parade

Juneteenth festival performers
Photo: Jess Gabbay

The Jefferson School African American Heritage Center (JSAAHC) will be hosting its three-day Juneteenth celebration this weekend in partnership with the Juneteenth Committee and, for the first time ever, the annual event will feature a parade. The procession will start at 10 a.m. Saturday, June 18, at Jackson P. Burley Middle School (formerly Burley High School) on Rose Hill Drive and end at JSAAHC on Fourth Street Northwest.

The first Charlottesville Juneteenth celebration was organized by Tamyra Turner in 2000. In 2002, Maxine Holland and La TaSha Levy joined Turner in coordinating the annual events, which were held at Piedmont Virginia Community College (PVCC) where Turner taught as an English professor. Levy left the area four years later to pursue her Ph.D., and Turner passed away in 2019. Except for a short break during the event’s transition from PVCC to JSAAHC in 2015, Holland has continued to play a lead role in the annual gathering which is as much about education as it is about celebration.

“Bringing it here made it a little bit more centrally located, much more accessible. You could walk to it. There was parking close by,” says JSAAHC Executive Director Dr. Andrea Douglas. “I remember the very first one we did, and it was almost like a family reunion. You know, people were coming back. The numbers up at PVCC had started to go down a little bit. And so, bringing it here created that familial space. And that was important.”

Douglas started talking with Holland back in 2011 about the possibility of hosting a parade. “I used to live in New Orleans, and in New Orleans, Black people parade every weekend. And there's something about the ways in which parade in the African culture is vastly different than parade in the European culture,” Douglas notes. “Parade in the European culture is usually about the military. It's about showing your military force, so you’ve got displays of the Navy and the Army and this, that and the other. And then it's also about displaying the local officers, so you get the police department or the fire department that parade.”

“When Black people parade, it's about life or death. There, it is part of a ritual. So, you parade at the beginning of harvest. You parade when you're displaying the young women who are now of age. You parade when the young men come out after they have gone through their celebration of their becoming men, right? So, it's a much more communal celebration.”

"There's a tradition that was lost here with the closing of the Jefferson School and the closing of Burley, and it's a musical tradition,” Douglas adds. “One of the reasons I have heard why the Dogwood Festival was so popular [at a moment] was because they were all waiting for the Burley band. They were the last band to march in the Dogwood Parade. And they were the best band.”

“Burley’s music program was inherited from the Jefferson School’s music program of the ’40s and ’50s,” continues Douglas “and there is record that in their time both bands would go to Virginia State [University] and clean house. And so, there's already this tradition of this kind of participation that we're trying to bring. And we want to do it in a way that is nurturing as opposed to, you know, making it just pure spectacle, the minute that it comes out, right?”

The parade “is not a small undertaking,” says Douglas. “I've never done it before. But happily, we have a good group of volunteers who have done the work to make people know about the parade and who have helped to pull it all together. And, you know, the energy of Maxine Holland is unmatched.”

Holland, Douglas notes “has been deeply engaged in maintaining this history of Juneteenth. It is, in this particular region, the longest running celebration of its kind.”

As described on the website, “Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. From its Galveston, Texas origin in 1865, the observance of June 19th as the African American Emancipation Day has spread across the United States and beyond. Today Juneteenth commemorates African American freedom and emphasizes education and achievement.”

Juneteenth became a federal holiday in the United States in 2021.

“There is no person other than Maxine who has done it long enough, who has the kind of reputation not just here, but also in the larger Juneteenth movement, because there was a movement to make it a national holiday, and she was a participant in that as well,” says Douglas. “And so, her leadership in this space cannot be underestimated. Maxine has maintained a standard that creates a space where we can celebrate, we can enjoy ourselves, but at the same time educate.”

“When you want to talk about the implications of Juneteenth, whether it be a national holiday or not, it is about Black people,” continues Douglas. “It is about their freedom. And one of the ways that you can demonstrate that ability to be free is to walk the streets, right? People underestimate the importance of ambulation in terms of meeting your neighbors, in terms of presence, but also in terms of the kinds of dangers that also being Black and walking streets has meant/can mean.”

Following the parade will be a day of food, music and dance on the main stage outdoors until 8 p.m. Artists include Myra Anderson, Paige West Hill, Richelle Claiborne, Ti Ames, Jacob Briggs, Ellis Williams Quintet, Mighty Joshua, Yolanda Muhamma, Laquinn, Keese, Back N Da Day, Ebony Groove, and @AyDeeTheGreat. In addition, Rapping our History artists Waterloo Hampton and Bakari Kennedy will perform music created from oral histories in the JSAAHC archives.

More than 30 Black businesses and organizations will be displaying promotional materials. And there will be an open-sided tent this year for shade. The event is free and open to the public.

The weekend celebration will begin on June 17 at 6 p.m. in the JSAAHC auditorium with a program for the African American community honoring ancestors. On the evening of June 19, the Charlottesville Players Guild will present a staged reading in the JSAAHC auditorium of Topdog / Underdog by Suzan Lori Parks. The performance will be followed by a post-show discussion with the director, Matthew Reynolds, the cast and community leaders and artists, Sarad Davenport, Zy Bryant, Chris Evans and Rev. Brenda Brown Grooms. Both in-person and virtual tickets are available on the JSAAHC website.

“I believe that when we created the Heritage Center, part of our role was supportive. Part of our role was to make sure that those things that were already deeply embedded in the tradition of this community could be supported. Because we were an institution,” says Douglas. “So, for me, Juneteenth is not about this place, as much as it's about the thing that was already here, before we got here. And how do we make sure that that remains here, right? So that in 10 years from now, there is a Juneteenth Celebration, and that Juneteenth Celebration begins with an honoring of ancestors, but then it goes into a celebration, and that we are as thoughtful about it 10 years from now as Maxine, Tam, and La TaSha were when they created it, right? Because there was a certain amount of urgency then. And that urgency is not lost now. We only hope that 10 years from now, it won't be the same urgency.”

Visit here for more information about this year’s Juneteenth celebration at JSAAHC.

Visit here for a list of additional Juneteenth events in the area.

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