Franklin’s first Juneteenth event creates a draw

Published 8:25 pm Wednesday, June 21, 2023

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The city of Franklin’s inaugural Juneteenth Cultural Celebration drew locals and more out to celebrate the holiday that highlights the date — June 19, 1865 — that marked an effective end of slavery in the United States.

The city partnered with nonprofit Amun Ra Inc. to make possible the festival, which featured a wreath-laying ceremony at Bon Secours – Southampton Medical Center on Saturday, June 17, and then a wide variety of cultural, musical and sporting events at the Hayden Village Center, Armory Field, Barrett’s Landing Park and College Drive Park across Saturday, Sunday, June 18, and Monday, June 19.

Helping lead efforts to put on the celebration was Franklin Ward 3 Councilman Gregory McLemore, who was pleased with how the event went.

“It went fantastic,” he said. “Couldn’t have asked for much more for the first year.”

Recalling something Franklin Mayor Robert “Bobby” Cutchins had mentioned, McLemore said, “The mayor was absolutely right in regards to start smaller and build, build, build each year, and if we can build upon, next year, what we had this year, we should be over capacity by next year.”

McLemore also said he thought the Juneteenth celebration raised the bar for entertainment in Franklin.

“So the citizens got something they would have (ordinarily) had to go somewhere else to get for entertainment, and they got it right here at home,” he said.

The highlight of the three-day celebration was the performance by Luther ReLives, a group that brings to life the love ballads of the late legendary singer Luther Vandross.

Luther ReLives performed at Barrett’s Landing on Sunday evening to what McLemore noted was a standing-room-only crowd.

“That was phenomenal,” McLemore said of Luther ReLives’ performance. “People just couldn’t believe their eyes and ears. Luther ReLives, they stood up to their word. Luther Vandross is gone. You’ll never have another one, but you can’t get very much closer than what we had here, and they travel all over the country and the world performing Luther — that’s how good they are.”

He said Luther ReLives was by far the best, but he noted that all the bands that performed at the celebration did a good job.

“We had Ra Jazz, we had Legacy Band, Michael Jackson did his thing,” he said. “So everything pretty much went by schedule, and we were able to pull off the inaugural Juneteenth annual celebration.”

McLemore stated that the amount of people that the three-day event drew “was far from what I had anticipated, but there were more Juneteenth events going on this weekend than have ever taken place across Hampton Roads. Everybody and their mother tried to jump onto Juneteenth.”

He said the people who attended Franklin’s Juneteenth event were mostly local, though some came from Suffolk, Norfolk and North Carolina.

He recalled that some Franklin events in the past have drawn more outsiders than locals.

“So this time we had more locals than we had outsiders, which I think is a good thing because as I want the outsiders to grow, I want the locals to feel comfortable taking advantage of what they have in their own city,” he said.

He noted that Cutchins and Franklin City Manager Amanda C. Jarratt were on hand for the wreath-laying ceremony, and he said Cutchins also came out on Sunday.

“Juneteenth is a pivotal moment in United States history,” Jarratt said. “We appreciate the opportunity for citizens from across the region to celebrate this momentous occasion in the city of Franklin.”