The color of beautiful inclusiveness

Published 6:20 pm Monday, June 13, 2022

Saturday June 18, Washington. like so many other cities and towns across the nation, will celebrate the first federal holiday recognizing Juneteenth.  Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of all enslaved people and was first celebrated in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865, then celebrated annually in many parts of the country since.  The City of Washington and various groups and organizations are providing a full day of events this year.

The Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum, the only museum in NC completely dedicated to telling the story of the underground railroad, is honored to have a role in the celebration. Many people still do not know the role the underground railroad played in Galveston, which helped enslaved people escape from Galveston Bay to reach Mexico.

But the underground railroad is more than just the story of seeking freedom. It was one of the country’s first efforts to build integrated and inclusive communities.

The underground railroad provided an inclusive community within its network where enslaved people could find refuge, freedom and value of life.  An inclusive/integrated community recognizes the need for all its people to have a voice, feel welcome and be celebrated for what they can bring to the community.

Over the past months, I have seen a wonderful collaboration of all kinds of people working together to achieve this goal for Juneteenth 2022 in the greater Washington area. So many people of various ethnicities and backgrounds wanted to have a small part in planning what would honor the spirit of Juneteenth and become stakeholders in the celebration of African American freedom.

At last year’s Juneteenth celebration, some local people expressed a desire to help make Juneteenth 2022 one that would bring in people and ideas from all over Beaufort County.  We listened and realized many parts of Beaufort County’s history could be linked to Juneteenth. And that maybe, through ‘six degrees of separation, its history may be linked to Galveston, and by a remote possibility, been a part of the Juneteenth story, as the Galveston cotton trade brought enslaved people from North Carolina to work there.

For example, James M. Holderness, a slave trader born in Caswell County NC in 1822, came to Washington in the early 1850’s to buy enslaved people (a fact validated through local slave ads.) Local stories told of enslaved people being sold to Texas by a local slave trader. After the Civil War, Holderness moved to Palo Pinto, Texas about 370 miles from Galveston. Did he sell enslaved people to Texas during his days of slave trading? I don’t know for sure but I do not doubt the story.

Inclusive/integrated community efforts will bring the Historic Bath Site, Ware Creek School in Blount’s Creek and the Aurora Fossil Museum among other venues to be part of the celebration, as all these places have strong, significant ties to local African American history.

This history will be provided at their sites in Caboose Park on Saturday.  An inclusive/integrated community celebrates the voices, ideas and sharing of all its people.

So, you can come to Juneteenth celebrations to learn something new, remember and honor those who were enslaved who never got to experience freedom or join Pamlico Books for a Juneteenth ‘Read-ins’ for children and adults.

 You can also enjoy living history enactments and history tours, see underground railroad routes from the Pamlico River aboard the Estuarium boat, and trace your ancestry at the Brown Library.

You can sing, dance, play games, watch and celebrate the parade and enjoy good food and good company at P. S. Jones Memorial and Beebe Park.

All city-wide events will respect, celebrate and honor all that Juneteenth means. Please come join us.

Leesa Jones is a Washington native and the co-founder and co-executive director of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum.