BECKLEY, W.Va (WOAY) – Today, organizers in Beckley celebrated Juneteenth beginning their day at Hunters Cemetery and finishing up at the Youth Museum of Southern West Virginia.
Juneteenth celebrates the official day that slaves were freed in 1865. Today, in Beckley, the celebration began by honoring the veterans at the Hunter Cemetery. This was a special moment for Revered James H. Cox, who served his country in Vietnam.
“There are some vets here that served back in the 1900s, you know, early 1900s, and they have been forgotten,” Cox said. “This is just a reminder that they did serve the country and a lot of them lost their lives there, so just a pleasure to be a part of this organization that recognizing the vets that have served this country and lost their lives.”
A representative from West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin’s office also attended the event. She brought new flags for the cemetery and spoke on his behalf about the importance of the day.
Juneteenth has been celebrated in Beckley for the past sixteen years. Many recognize the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation as the the day all slaves were freed. However, it wasn’t until years later that it became official.
“The initial signing of the Emancipation Proclamation was signed and then it wasn’t until 1865 June 19th it was, that in Texas, they realized that the slaves were freed,” Juneteenth Celebration President Tine Pannell-Ellis said.
Organizers say because of the lack of education they wanted the focus of this year to be educating the youth about Juneteenth, which is why they brought in the National Park Service to help them out.
“I’m here to educate the youth because the youth, you know, they don’t know a lot about Juneteenth, slavery, any of those things so I’m just here to help educate them,” Donna Marie Shepard Jones from the New River Gorge National Park Service said.
Beckley’s Juneteenth is a time of remembrance, celebration and education but it’s also an opportunity to bring the community together.
“We’re here and we are celebrating and hopefully the community will start celebrating it also. It is a wonderful community. We just need to recognize our history and our past and come together,” Cox said.