Juneteenth celebrations planned across the state, as 2021 marks first year as state holiday

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Saturday marks the first time that June 19 will be recognized as a state holiday, Juneteenth Day in West Virginia. There are celebrations set across the state commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.

Jill Upson, Director of the Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs (HHOMA) said the state’s celebration will be virtual due to COVID-19 but it does not take away from the importance of the day. She said it’s significant for West Virginia to recognize the date as much as possible.

Jill Upson

Upson said she spoke with state senators early on in the 2021 regular session about Senate Concurrent Resolution 4 and what the day means for the African-American community. June 19, 1865, is considered the date when the last slaves in America were freed when General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, and issued General Order No. 3, almost two and one-half years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, the resolution text reads.

“It’s a significant holiday for the black community. It’s a positive and uplifting celebration that I think everyone, regardless of race, should support and enjoy,” Upson said.

HHOMA’s virtual celebration is headlined by Montell Jordan, the former R&B singer best known for “This is How We Do It” and now pastor. The West Virginia artists selected to perform in the Juneteenth celebration are Appalachian Children’s Choir, song, Charleston; Ashlyn Bell, dance, Charleston; Capital High School VIP Show Choir, medley song; MaKinsey Cline, baton dance, Gilbert; Kelly Coberly, song, Buckhannon; Dale Kat Duvernay, poetry, Charleston; Brandhi Irvon, song, Morgantown; Alondra Johnson, song, Charleston; Aristotle Jones, song, Morgantown; Kingston and Mark Price, music, Charleston; Charles Shelton Jr., music, Charleston; Smoochie and the Heavy Hitters Band, music, Montgomery; and Victoria LaVonne Wilburn, poetry, Huntington.

The event will stream live on HHOMA’s Facebook page on Saturday, June 19, at 5 p.m., and will also air on West Virginia Public Broadcasting the same day at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Upson said the event is planned months in advance every year and when the 2021 celebration was being put together, COVID-19 guidelines remained strict and it forced the state to move virtual. She said she plans for a 2022 event that is bigger and better than ever.

“Under the COVID guidelines that were going on as we were planning months ago, we had to go with it virtually. We would have loved to do it in-person this year,” Upson said.

The state’s virtual event is sponsored by Charleston’s FestivALL and the Martin Luther King Jr. State Holiday Commission.

Cities across the state are holding their own celebrations including Beckley, Bluefield, Charleston, Fairmont, Huntington, Parkersburg, Weirton, and Wheeling, according to Upson’s office. Upson said some cities just could not host any event due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Fairmont and Wheeling events will have COVID-19 vaccinations available there.

Charleston’s celebration includes Yung Bleu and ‘Track Star’ hit maker “Mooski alongside New York’s Hot 97 personality ‘Funkmaster Flex’ all hosted by comedian ‘Carlos HaHa Davis.’ The Juneteenth Celebration will take place at the Municipal Auditorium on Friday will doors opening at 6:30 p.m.

President Joe Biden signed a bill on Thursday establishing June 19 as Juneteenth National Independence Day. The measure was passed by both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives this week.

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