Celebrating Emancipation

Celebrating Emancipation

A conversation with Lillian Stanton Patterson.

A fourth-generation of Alexandria, Lillian Stanton Patterson graduated from Parker Gray High School in 1944. She is curator at the Alexandria Black History Museum, and has worked for the city since 1977.

<b>What is Juneteenth?</b>

It’s a celebration that people in Texas started in 1865. The Emancipation Proclamation freed people in many states, but the news that they had been freed took a long time to get to Texas. When they heard the news, they had a big celebration. It happened in June 19, 1865 — and they called it Juneteenth.

<b>What happens during the Black History Museum’s Juneteenth event?</b>

It’s mainly a celebration of freedom, and we have a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation. We also have religious music, secular music, food and dancing. It’s all of the things that you do for a happy occasion.

<b>How did it begin?</b>

We have been doing it here at the museum for 10 or 11 years or so. The director of the museum back then was Eugene Thompson, and he came up with the idea to celebrate Juneteenth because it was an African-American celebration. So he began working with the African American Heritage Committee, and we’ve been doing it ever since.

<b>Why is celebrating Juneteenth important?</b>

It’s one of those inherently African-American celebrations. It represents us as people, and it celebrates our culture and our heritage. We keep going so that our descendants will always know about their culture and heritage. It’s something we pass along because we are proud to say who and what we are.

<b>What events are planned?</b>

There will be vendors with food, mainly soul foods like chicken and fish. Also, hot dogs and hamburgers, of course. Ice cream and punches, no hard drinks — all soft. There will also be children’s crafts, like how to make small pieces of jewelry or a small pin or earrings. We are also going to have a step team called the Sons of Shiloh, and also hand dancing demonstration.

<b>What do you like about the festival?</b>

I like seeing all the people coming together to celebrate being African American and having fun. It’s a good place to meet people and enjoy a good day out in the community.