Story by Callie Broaddus
On Saturday, June 18th, the Main Street of Warrenton was closed to traffic as more than 1,500 people celebrated Juneteenth — a federal holiday marking the liberation of enslaved Black people in Texas two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was supposed to end slavery in the Confederacy.
“It’s about freedom,” remarked the event’s committee chair, Dr. Tyrone Champion. He gestured to the street, lined with 68 vendors selling African American soul food, clothing, and other wares to a diverse crowd. “Freedom means equality. It means white, black, orange, green, we’re all happy in one place living together, doing the right thing — enjoying life.”
The event featured a rap and spoken word contest and an energizing demonstration by Charlottesville’s Chihamba Dance Troupe at the Fifth Street stage with historical introductions providing context to each event. Crowds stood shoulder-to-shoulder with some spectators setting up chairs well in advance, in anticipation of the performances. Sitting under the shade of a tree with his dog while his 98-year-old mother walked through the street vendors, a federal employee named Bill remarked, “I have an international family, so I wanted to bring them to see the exposure of all the different cultures that revolve around this holiday.”
Meanwhile, up at the Courthouse, two stylists were engaged in a hair braiding contest as three young children ran around the square blowing bubbles. Samontha Opont, whose mother Lottice Keller was one of the volunteers having her hair braided, shared a hopeful sentiment. “I think it’s beautiful,” she said with a smile, “I’ve never seen this many people come out for a social event featuring Black lives and our culture. I’m excited!”
This year’s celebration was scaled up significantly from the 2021 edition which was held at Eva Walker Park with fewer than 15 vendors. If the mood of Saturday’s crowd on Main Street is to be trusted, Warrenton’s Main Street has just seen the first of what will surely become a favorite annual fixture for the town.
The 2nd Annual Juneteenth Celebration was sponsored by the Afro American Historical Association, In A Bein, The Fauquier NAACP, and View Tree Lodge No. 142.