Juneteenth observance held in Richmond

By Bonnie Koenig DLA Aviation public affairs

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Defense Logistics Agency Aviation’s Bellwood Chapter of Blacks in Government, an organization incorporated in 1975, presented a “How it all began,” Juneteenth Observance on June 23, at the African-American gravesite located on Defense Supply Center Richmond, Virginia.

DLA Aviation employee and BIG member, Marichell Scott, contract specialist in the Supplier Operations Commodities Directorate, opened the event reciting the celebrations’ history dating back to June 19 1865, which included the reading of General Grangers’ Order Number 3 stating, “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.” 

The Juneteenth event’s guest speaker was Dr. Lauranett Lee, the curator of African American History at the Virginia Historical Society, Richmond. Her presentations highlighted the history of Bellwood and a historical perspective of Virginia and events taking place in the United States from 1865, through the civil rights movement up until today. Lee opened by reciting a verse from the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” written by civil rights activist and poet James Weldon Johnson. “The storm is passing … Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod, felt in the days when hope unborn had died; yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet come to the place for which our fathers and mothers sighed? ” Lee asked.  “We are here to remember ancestors, unknown and unnamed … this is for all of us, this is a part of American history and is part of our identity as a nation.” 

She said during the time period [from the end of reconstruction in 1877 through the early 20th century], known as the nadir [the lowest point in a persons existence] for African Americans. It was very important that people documented events that were going on. These types of documents help us to learn about and focus on those who have come before us. She emphasized the importance of studying history. We should also be present in the now and focus on our work, but we must also spend time with our families to learn about our family history. Lee said her mother worked at DSCR in the 1960s – 1990s, and her family came here to picnics and 4th of July festivities.  She said at these events you could see how America was changing right here at Bellwood.  Black and white children played together.

It means something to give honor to those that lived and worked here even on the plantation where the enslaved worked and lived with their owners in a type of family unit.  We study to learn about who we are and how far we have come as a nation.

Juneteenth is celebrated each year in observance of African-American Emancipation Day, which was June 19, 1865.  On that date Union soldiers led by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger announced at Galveston, Texas, that the Civil War was over and that all enslaved were then free. This was more than two years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which became official Jan. 1, 1863.

According to the National Registry Juneteenth website, Juneteenth is a day of reflection and renewal. Not only a time to reflect on the African-American experience but also the experiences of all races, ethnicities and nationalities coming together as a nation.

The DSCR site has a rich history having been used as a Native-American trade site from 1200 to 3500 B.C., as an English settlement in 1619, as a southern plantation called Auburn Chase during the 1800s. In 1887 it changed owners and became known as Bellwood Farms, then sold to the U.S. Army in 1941. During the 1998 excavation for the Betty Ackerman-Cobb Child Development Center, workers discovered six graves dating from 1840 to 1920. Radford University identified human remains found during excavation as belonging to three black males and three black females, ranging in age from 18 to 45. The Radford University analysts were unable to determine how the individuals died or who they were. DSCR reinterred the remains during a ceremony in October 1999.

Center employees, local historical society volunteers and cultural resource experts took up the search to find out the identity of the six buried so long ago. They searched historical archives, wills, deeds, and census reports as far back as the mid-1800s. Center officials attempted to locate descendants through a public notice placed in local media and through flyers distributed to local churches. No response was received. Researchers found the names Moses, Wilson, Plough Bob, Whitty, and Harriet, just to name a few, listed as slaves at Auburn Chase prior to the Civil War. Census records from 1870 list family names such as Gregory, Drewry, and Cox associated with the original plantation.

Lee closed by reciting the first verse of Johnson’s song verse, “Lift every voice, Lift every voice and sing, till earth and heaven ring, ring with the harmonies of Liberty; Let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies, let it resound loud as the rolling sea. Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us.”