On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger posted an order in Galveston, Texas, proclaiming the end of slavery, 17 days after Confederate forces surrendered in that state.
On that same date 158 years later, the community of Westminster-Canterbury of the Blue Ridge held its very first Juneteenth Celebration Service. And by any standard, it was a joyful success, as more than 200 people “listened, learned, cared, prayed, sang, and enjoyed fellowship,” reported WCBR Chaplain Caitlyn Hoy, adding “Thank you, beloved community, for making this a truly special gathering.”
Residents and associates led the service with word and song. The Rev. Mildred M. Best of Charlottesville delivered a message in which she reminded those present that “We are not free until we are all free.” The WCBR Singing Seniors performed, accompanied by soloist Tony Marbury, WCBR’s information technology director.
“It was an honor to be surrounded by our WCBR family, all in support and celebration of the history that has built me,” said Marbury. “Every single memory of our Juneteenth service absolutely warms my heart. My wife Patty and I reread the outstanding informational program guide from Chaplain Cait, and with tears in our eyes and smiles on our faces, we are thankful for every resident, associate, and special guest that joined us in our first inaugural event and continued journey toward equality, fairness, and treatment.”
Multiple comments from residents seconded Tony Marbury’s appreciation of the occasion. “The depth of feeling of mutual respect during the celebration was electrifying and all felt lucky to be part of such a community as ours,” said Julie Stamm. Jamie Chase joined in, “In a wonderful coming together of the entire WCBR community, we shared our faiths, celebrated with great music, acknowledged our troubling history, and took to heart a renewed call to action.”
The announcement in Galveston that led to this holiday came two-and-a-half years after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation proclamation officially declared slaves in Confederate states to be free. The people who received this joyful news in Texas were not the last to be freed, as slavery still existed in two border states. Slavery finally ended forever throughout the United States when the 13th Amendment was ratified on Dec. 6, 1865.
But that didn’t prevent Juneteenth from becoming a day of celebration in Galveston, across Texas, and ultimately across the country. Finally, it became a national holiday in 2021, when President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law.
That makes June 19 a special day for all Americans. But the spirit of freedom isn’t confined to that one day. As Chaplain Hoy said, “Let’s keep proclaiming, let’s keep singing and learning and celebrating!”