Briana Heaney Published

VOX POP: Juneteenth

Five girls in green shirts stand and pose for a photo.
Wilder and her friends all walked in the parade representing their sorority Xinos Epsilon.
Briana Heaney/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Wednesday was the federal holiday Juneteenth, which celebrates the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. Mountainstaters hit the streets to celebrate the nation’s, and the state’s, newest holiday. 

Paul Dunn is a pastor at First Baptist Church of Charleston. He is from Texas where the holiday originates and said the holiday set the ball in motion for things like Historical Black Colleges and Universities, family reunions around the holiday, and civil justice. 

“The importance of Juneteenth is with letting everyone know freedom. I’m a Texan. I grew up celebrating Juneteenth. And so I think it’s very important for people to really understand four principles about Juneteenth. Number one, the slaves wanted to make sure that their families were unified. So a lot of holidays, a lot of family reunions, happen around Juneteenth in Texas. Secondly, they wanted to do something about the massive literacy problem. So a lot of our HBCUs were started right after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. Thirdly, we wanted to find candidates that we could get involved in the political process. And then fourthly, a lot of the slaves went to sue their masters because they had been falsely enslaved for years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.“

man in a red shirt and a hat sits at a table.
Paul Dunn said this holiday helped establish Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Briana Heaney/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Linda Wooster has a long familial history in Appalachia that started when her great grandmother was sold to a family in Virginia. 

“They were bought and was sold to somebody in Rocky Mountain, Virginia, and that went on and on,” she said. “And my mother who is 96 lives in Virginia, and she always tells me to please tell the history of the family to keep it alive. And I have passed down the history of the family, to my grandchildren who are old enough to understand, and they are to pass it down today to their children so they will know.”

Now she celebrates Juneteenth as part of her family’s story of resilience and endurance. 

“It’s just no one that my ancestors had to go through,” she said. “And the reason we celebrate it started with Texas when they found out that slaves were free. And we celebrate every year. And I get all excited.“ 

The parade kicked off the day’s celebrations at Slack Plaza in Charleston.
Briana Heaney/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Seventeen-year-old  Maurine Wilder was in the Juneteenth parade in Charleston, and said this is a special day of togetherness for her and her friends. 

“My favorite part was walking with my girls with the Xinos Epsilon chapter,” Wilder said. “Like we were all hyped, we were singing and dancing. There was no music while we were walking but we made music. Everybody was so nice handing out the candy to the kids. It was so fun. It was good vibes.”

Rod Blackstone said he’s happy to be part of a holiday that celebrates everyone’s freedom. 

“The vibe today is that it’s a great community celebration, and really a freedom celebration in the sense that this is a day of freedom,” Blackstone said. “The mixed messages of July 4, as a national holiday, are tempered now with an ability to say this is when we had full freedom in the United States. This is the day that commemorates. So it’s a great, great day to be able to be here.” 

Juneteenth celebrations began last week in West Virginia on the state capitol grounds and will continue through this weekend.