The Elegba Folklore Society, the cultural ambassador for Richmond presented Juneteenth, A Freedom Celebration 2010 on June 19.  Beginning at 3 pm, this commemoration of Juneteenth National Freedom Day featured a full palette of performers and speakers doing African world music, songs, and stories of the African Diaspora.  The event included an African dance class, panel discussions, ceremonies, performances and the Freedom Market featuring food, art and imports along with special engagement for children.  

Dr. Shawn O. Utsey, who chairs the African American studies department at Virginia Commonwealth University was a keynote speaker.  Juneteenth, A Freedom Celebration welcomed international guests, His Excellency, Daniel Ohene Agyekum of the Embassy of the Republic of Ghana in Washington, DC and enstooled Ashanti priest, Nana Kwabena Faheem Ashanti.


The Richmond Juneteenth event culminated with the Annual Torch Lit Walk on the Trail of Enslaved Africans at 7 pm, led by Elegba Folklore Society’s performers with African dance and music. Staged interpretations took place at Manchester Dock, the Canal Walk’s Turning Basin, the Reconciliation Statue, the site of the infamous Lumpkin's Jail in Shockoe Bottom and the Burial Ground for Negroes (African Burial Ground).

Dr. Nana Ashanti performed traditional funerary rites for unidentified Africans after leading the funeral procession from Manchester Docks (the disembarking point for slaves) through Shockoe Bottom (the warehouses where slaves were kept until sold or death) over to the Burial Ground for Negroes.  All in attendance for this ceremony were encouraged to wear the customary Ghanaian funeral colors of red and black.           

richmond_slave_graveThe Burial Ground for Negroes is one of the oldest cemeteries and probably the oldest black cemetery in the country. From the 1700’s to the early 1800’s countless persons of African descent were buried here. Over time, however, the sacred burial ground has become part of the Virginia Commonwealth University’s parking enhancement program.  That’s right: a parking lot! This site is also the site of the October 10, 1800 hanging of Gabrielle “Prosser” who lead what is known as Gabrielle’s Rebellion. Gabrielle was the African who inspired Nat Turner and recruited Harriet Tubman’s help which caused the civil unrest that eventually led to the Civil War and thus the freeing of slaves.

Janine Bell, president and artistic director of the Elegba Folklore Society, appreciates the cultural enrichment Juneteenth, A Freedom Celebration gives.  She says, “This event is about acknowledgment.  Africans who were brought to Richmond to live out their lives in bondage here and in other states have not been properly acknowledged.  In one example, the multi-billion dollar, multi-national tobacco industry was built on their backs neither to their own benefit or the benefit of their descendents.  

Now Africa’s children with the children of European slave owners can reclaim and understand hidden history.  An enhanced level of understanding can bring needed clarity to our lives today.”

Over the next five years, the Commonwealth of Virginia will be celebrating the Civil War. The formal name of this statewide celebration is “The Sesquicentennial.” While many Civil War buffs reenacted fierce battles and discussed strategic blunders, many African Americans and other groups were commemorating Juneteenth, as a day of independence.  For more information, visit



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