VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — The year was 1997.
More than 130 years after the very first celebration in Texas, Juneteenth arrived in Hampton Roads at the Francis Land House in Virginia Beach.
One Portsmouth woman made it all happen.
“When it first started it was June who? June what?” said Sheri Bailey, founder of JuneteenthVA.
Bailey spent months planning the area’s first festival 25 years ago.
Even she admits she had never heard the word Juneteenth back then until spending time at an event in California.
“I realized a lot of the history they talked about was my local Hampton Roads history,” said Bailey.
Bailey is a playwright, and from the very first celebration locally, she has used her knack for storytelling to entertain and educate; it’s part of the reason many people in the region knew what Juneteenth was well before it became a federal holiday.
“[Theater] is a wonderful tool for helping people look at this difficult history,” she said.
While it may have started with one woman and one celebration in 1997, more than 30 events across Hampton Roads make Juneteenth Virginia a source of pride for us all today.
Along with other events over the weekend, Bailey’s play "Abolitionists’ Museum" is Saturday, June 18 at The Book Club on High in Olde Town Portsmouth.
Although almost every state recognizes Juneteenth in some fashion, many have been slow to do more than issue a proclamation or resolution, even as some continue to commemorate the Confederacy.
Lawmakers in Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and other states failed to advance proposals this year that would have closed state offices and given most of their public employees paid time off for the June 19 holiday.