Juneteenth Celebration Continuing to Grow in Wheeling
WHEELING — A weekend of Juneteenth celebrations culminated on Monday night with food, music, and commemoration throughout Market Plaza.
Ron Scott Jr., Juneteenth Committee chair and master of ceremonies, opened the celebration at the north end of the plaza, a poignant location as it was once the site of a slave auction block. At the podium, Scott told the assembled crowd that he was thankful to hold the celebration for the fourth year in a row, especially when the holiday can encounter some “resistance.”
Diana Bell of the Wheeling Griot Society shared the importance of keeping stories alive, not only of African American history. She noted all groups should strive to preserve and share their past.
“Storytelling is an important part of preserving the history we have,” explained Bell. “Every family has it, not just African American families but Italian, Jewish, Korean and Chinese. Every family has stories they can tell, and preserving the story is what is important.”
Other speakers at the event shared their unique perspectives regarding their connection to the history of slavery and racism in and beyond Wheeling.
Darryl Clausell, president of the West Virginia and Wheeling NAACP, called on those in the audience to imagine the slave block once erected where he stood for his speech.
Unique Robinson-Murphy, communities in schools site coordinator for Wheeling Park High School, shared her pride in being a mentor for Black children in local schools, something she didn’t have as a child.
Mayor Glenn Elliott contrasted his own ancestors’ freedom of choice in building their future with the experience of enslaved peoples.
The Rev. Twila Davis of Macedonia Baptist Church then conducted the libation ceremony. Afterward, she led the crowd in a rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by J. Rosamond Johnson and James Weldon Johnson.
After the opening ceremony, festivities moved to the south end of the plaza, with performances by Voices of Praise of Macedonia Baptist Church and Soul Pantry, a funk/soul band. While listening to music, festival-goers enjoyed food from local vendors, including SouthPaw Eatz, Euphoric Donuts and SweetZekes Coffee.
Organizations such as the Wheeling Griot Society and Partners of African American Churches (PAAC) also had tents at the festival to educate and share the importance of the holiday.
Many local Black-owned businesses, such as Dee’s Hair & Beauty Supplies, sold clothes and other goods at the event. Amari Poole, an employee of Dee’s Hair & Beauty Supplies, was pleased with the exposure they gained at the event.
The 21-year-old also shared her excitement at having a Juneteenth celebration in the city she grew up in.
“When I was younger, we normally didn’t have a lot of events like this, especially here on the plaza,” she said.
Wheeling native Kenny Shuman, 52, also expressed that as a kid “it used to be nothing but the Italian Festival going on in Wheeling.”
“To have something like this is an improvement. It’s about time,” Shuman added.
The sentiment “It’s about time” was echoed by other attendees, as both young and old emphasized the need for the Juneteenth celebration in the city to continue.
“It’s important to have a Juneteenth celebration because what happens in little towns like ours reflects the overall country,” said Scott. “If they’re doing it in New York, L.A., and Detroit, we definitely should be doing it in Wheeling.”
Robinson-Murphy explained that not only the Black community in Wheeling but anyone who “supports and encourages events like this and uplifting Black voices” should attend and support Juneteenth celebrations.
“I have younger cousins and a daughter who will hopefully experience this plus more, more than what I had,” said Robinson-Murphy.
“It feels good to witness the event grow so much in the past four years,” added Scott. “It’s gone from looking online and seeing comments of ‘made-up holiday’ to now people asking ‘what are you doing for Juneteenth this year?’”