BY CLARA VAUGHN, Eastern Shore Post
When Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, enslaved people there received the news of their freedom. It was more than two-and-a-half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.
Known as Juneteenth, the date marks a milestone in U.S. history and is celebrated with family and community gatherings.
Accomack and Northampton residents can celebrate with free public festivals this weekend.
Celebrations kick off at 10 a.m. Saturday, June 17, in the Exmore Town Park with the annual Eastern Shore of Virginia Juneteenth Celebration. A Unity Parade starts at noon at the Fresh Pride plaza and travels down Main Street to join the festival.
Accomack County’s Juneteenth celebrations begin at 11 a.m. the same day at the Mary N. Smith Cultural Center, on Route 13 in Accomac.
Festivities continue the next day, Sunday, June 18, with a Father’s Day tribute and live music at the Do-Drop Inn in Weirwood from 4 to 7 p.m.
All three events are free and open to the public, though donations will be accepted at the door for Sunday’s show at the Do-Drop Inn.
“It’s continually growing,” Jane Cabarrus, founder and coordinator for the Exmore Juneteenth Festival, of the Eastern Shore’s Juneteenth celebrations.
“It’s very important that we know where we’ve come from and where we are now,” she said of the holiday.
Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.
Long before former Gov. Ralph Northam declared the day an official state holiday in 2020 and it became a federal holiday in 2021, Juneteenth was a day for celebrating freedom through family and community gatherings.
The Juneteenth festival on the Eastern Shore began 24 years ago and continues this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with live music, food, games, free health screenings, educational booths, and more in Exmore’s town park on Main Street.
The Gala Unity Parade begins at 12 p.m. in the former Fresh Pride plaza, at the intersection of Route 13 and Main Street, and will travel down Main Street to join the festival. Pastor Felton T. Sessoms will serve as parade Grand Marshal this year.
Live music by Frankie Davis, a gospel singer from Paris, France, begins at 1 p.m. in the park. R&B performers the Bridge Band, from Richmond, will play at 2 p.m.
On Sunday, Northampton’s Juneteenth celebrations continue at the Do-Drop Inn with live music by the Down ‘n Outs band from 4 to 7 p.m. Doors open at 3 p.m. at the establishment at 8204 Bayford Road, in Weirwood.
Donations will be accepted at the door and food will be for sale during the show, Cabarrus said.
“We continue to bring people together in diversity,” she said of her father’s dream for the Do-Drop Inn, which he opened in 1967. “We all could be together, laugh together, dance together, and have a nice time.”
Accomack County’s Juneteenth celebrations will be Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Mary N. Smith Cultural Center, 24577 Mary N. Smith Road, near Route 13 in Accomac.
The Accomack NAACP held its inaugural Juneteenth festival there last year and will continue the tradition with food trucks, vendors, children’s activities, games, raffles, live performances, and more.
“It’s just an opportunity for people just to come together,” said President of the Accomack chapter NAACP David Sabatino. “We have a multicultural gathering of people.”
Both counties’ Juneteenth celebrations are free, family-friendly, and open to the public. The Drop Do Inn event Sunday is by donation at the door.