On the first-ever federally-recognized Juneteenth holiday, Saturday, June 19, Loudouners are gathering at celebrations across the county to mark the progress made on equality and equity for all—and the work still left to do.
“It is critical that we remain focused on three things: knowledge, action and power,” said Robin Reaves Burke, NAACP Loudoun Branch second vice president and chair of the NAACP’s education committee. “More than ever, need to gain the knowledge, we need to know the truth about our past. We need to gain the knowledge and understanding of our present, now, and know completely what’s going on, even right here in Loudoun County.”
Speaking at a gathering in Leesburg’s Raflo Park at the memorial for Orion Anderson, a Black boy who was lynched in Leesburg in 1889, Burke called on people to take action in a unified, sustainable way, and to gain power through collaboration and community partnerships. To that end, she urged them to join the Loudoun NAACP, donate—mentioning that donations this year allowed the organization to grant 15 $1,000 scholarships—and join the work of an NAACP committee.
The event also featured a number of elected officials. Attorney General Mark Herring said it the day is an opportunity to “recommit ourselves to the work ahead to right the wrongs we see in our nation.”
“That work is still unfinished, because the promises of justice and equality and opportunity for all still are not fully fulfilled,” Herring said.
State Sen. Jennifer B. Boysko (D-33) also pointed to the ongoing controversy over public school teaching students about structural racism. Dubbing the anti-racist curriculum “Critical Race Theory”—a term borrowed from legal academia originating in the 1970s, and given new life among people attacking that curriculum—critics have put the Loudoun County School Board in national news with outcry from some Loudouners and national conservative organizations. Boysko said, “We are absolutely in the process of changing the way our stories are told.”
“We’re not going to apologize that we’re going to include everybody’s story anymore. We’re not going to apologize for saying that there were some problems. We’re not going to apologize for telling the story of our immigrant community,” Boysko said. “… We’re telling the stories that have been left out.”
Israfeel Martínez-Jaka, who for his Eagle Scout project organized and built a reflection area near the Orion Anderson marker, said he was prompted to the project by discussions about lynching in Leesburg.
“We decided together that we wanted to create a reflection area for people to remember the injustices of the history of the United States, and to reflect and remember Orion, because he was a human being,” Martínez-Jaka said. “Black lives matter. We can’t just throw away anyone because we think they’re less-than. Today I have a call to action—a call to action about finding the truth. Misinformation has been used to divide us for hundreds of years. This call to action is for myself and everyone else to find the truth through the sea of lies that spreads everywhere.”
“If you look at the brothers and sisters around you, I’m so proud, because the tapestry of Loudoun looks like this: many faiths, many ethnicities, many races, but one human fabric,” said Michelle Thomas, president of the Loudoun NAACP.
On display was a quilt that Mary Tucker, CEO of nonprofit My Care Village, said she bought at an estate sale in Virginia Beach for $85.
“Upon close inspection, I could tell it was evident it was not an ordinary quilt, from the hastily-stitched hand threads, to the blood stains all over this quilt, and to the single yellow square,” Tucker said.
She had the quilt looked at by a historian who determined it had been hand-stitched sometime between 1805 and 1860—and the bright yellow square was used to mark a home as a stop along the Underground Railroad for people seeking to escape slavery.
At Claude Moore Park, the celebration spanned the afternoon and featured an address from County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) and a flag raising performed by Buffalo Soldiers reenactors.
“What Juneteenth is, is independence for all people. We of course recognize the Fourth of July, but only once the 14th Amendment passed did it mean independence for everyone, so I am thrilled with this Juneteenth. We have four celebrations here in Loudoun County which tells you Loudoun County has been ready for this day,” Randall said.
William and Jalissa Cambell of Sterling brought their three children to the Claude Moore event. The family just moved from Georgia, where Juneteenth and the emancipation proclamation are annually recognized with celebrations. Since they couldn’t make it down south for the celebration they were happy to have somewhere to commemorate the day here in Loudoun.
“We’re African Americans so we’re proud of this,” Cambell said of the event. “This day is a day of reflection and also a time to come together and reflect on the fact that we all contribute in America.”
The Claude Moore celebration also featured a musical performance from Reverend Isaac Howard and the Howard Harmonizers.
Loudoun’s day of Juneenth celebrations continues, with The Burg Family Reunion Juneteenth Celebration ongoing at Ida Lee Park in Leesburg, and Juneteenth Loudoun happening at Claude Moore Park.
For more information, go to thebfrc.com/juneteenth-celebration and juneteenthloudoun.org.