Voltaire once wrote, "History is little else than a picture of human crimes and misfortunes." Slavery, no matter when its occurrence in history, or to what segment of humanity, qualifies on both counts.
The annual Juneteenth observance, recognizes June 19, 1865, when Union General Gordon Granger announced, in Galvaston, TX, freedom for all slaves in the Southwest. That occurred more than two and one half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
Alexandria's 2002 Juneteenth Celebration will have a particular historical orientation thanks to the efforts of Shirley Terrell and an organization known as the Company of Sisters [COS]. "It is a charitable organization designed to do adult mentoring and enable people to take more control of their lives," said Terrell, a COS founder and native Alexandrian.
Established in 1999, the organization was incorporated in 2000, according to Terrell. "Volunteers and members of COS are collaborating with the Alexandria Black History Resource Center to assist the museum in continuing its work to capture the distinctive historical accounts of Alexandria's African American senior citizens," she explained.
Through the use of oral histories and photography, COS is capturing the memories and experiences of Alexandria role models selected and honored in August 2001 through the theater production, "Celebration in the World of Sister Friends." COS's goal is to document and preserve the histories of those who have made positive contributions to the community, Terrell noted.
DURING THE CELEBRATION, to be held June 15, at the Black History Resource Center (ABHRC), 638 N. Alfred St., video and audiotape interviews with a variety of individuals will be available for viewing. COS is also encouraging others, who are at least 70 years of age, to become a part of the Oral History program by sharing their life story and insights. Those interested should call 703-838-4356.
Interviews with septuagenarians, Mabel Burts, 92, Mabel Price, 93, and octogenarian, Elsie Tucker Thomas, have already been completed as well as with Courtney Brooks, professional musician and community activist and educators, Arthur Dawkins, Christine Howard, and Mabel Terrell Lyles. Registration for additional interviews will be held at the Center the day of the celebration.
"It is the stories of these individuals, both enslaved and free, and the economic, social, and cultural contributions of African
Americans that changed our city's landscape," Terrell stated. "We hope that the information collected will serve as the basis for creating a wealth of research materials for the exhibition as well as source material for educational programs."
Local fine art photographer, Mary Noel MacMillian, will use her talent to enhance and put a face to the oral recollections. COS received a Special Opportunity Award of $1,500 from the Alexandria Commission of the Arts to help finance MacMillian's work, according to Terrell. COS hopes to capture the recollections of approximately 350 people through the combination of audiotapes, videotapes, and photographs.
"The histories will be archived at the Center and will become part of its permanent exhibit, entitled, Securing the Blessings of Liberty," Terrell said. "They will also be included as part of the archives of African-American women's history at the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House in Washington."
IN MAKING APPLICATION for the grant, it was emphasized, "The outcome of this project will ensure that a valuable portion of the history will not be lost...the city's residents will be motivated to visit the Resource Center... and those who tour the Center will leave challenged to explore other ethnic groups' contributions to the city's history. By virtue of the permanency of the exhibit, the impact of this project is perpetual."
But the oral history project is only one facet of the 2002 Juneteenth Celebration. "This year's event will include cheerleading, double-dutch rope jumping, jazz creative dance performances from the Charles Houston Center, and a headline performance by the D.C. Blues Society," said Louis Hicks, ABHRC director.
"It will also highlight talent from the various city recreation centers," he said. In addition to various performances by selected groups, there will be an informal staging of talent during the karaoke open mic session from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
For younger celebrants there will be pony rides, face painting, the African board game, Mancala, and other entertainment. Storytellers will be on hand to delight audiences with a variety of captivating styles of African American storytelling, according to the Center's announcement.
Now in its sixth year, the Alexandria celebration will begin at 1 p.m. with a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation followed by the city's Junetheenth Proclamation and a poetry selection entitled "Brown Girl from Harlem." An original piece by Dandrea Harris of Maryland, first given at last year's event, the author will again perform the reading.
COMPLIMENTING THE Oral History Program which is scheduled from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., are the Genealogy Workshop entitled "Researching Your Family History" from 3:15 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. and the Introductory Yoruba Language Class-Workshop from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
The family history session will discuss the methodology used in researching and creating a family tree document. The language workshop is designed as an introduction to the upcoming six week class series by Dr. Akinsola Akiwowo to teach both youth and adults the basic skills needed to speak, read, and write Yoruba, one of the languages of Africa.
"This has been an ongoing project at the Center," said Audrey Davis, ABHRC assistant director and curator. "It is designed to encourage more participation and increase the basic knowledge of African culture."
In addition to the D.C. Blues Society Band from 3 to 3:30 p.m., the range of music offered throughout the day will include gospel music by the Singing Angels and the Christian Force plus rhythm and blues from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the main stage during the Extreme Band Show.
Alexandria's Juneteenth Celebration, under the joint sponsorship of ABHRC, the Charles Houston Recreation Center, and the Alexandria African American Heritage Festival Committee, coincides with the national observance scheduled to be held on the Mall in Washington this Saturday. In case of rain the local festivities will be held in the Charles Houston Center, the Watson Reading Room, and the ABHRC.