Week of Juneteenth events planned for Isle of Wight, Surry

Published 4:00 pm Tuesday, June 11, 2024

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Isle of Wight and Surry counties have a week of festivities planned for Juneteenth, the June 19 holiday celebrating the end of slavery in the United States.

It marks the date in 1865 when African Americans in Galveston, Texas, learned the Civil War had ended and the Emancipation Proclamation had made them free two years earlier. Virginia is in its fifth year of recognizing the date as a state holiday.

The festivities begin on June 15 with a Juneteenth Festival from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Surry County Parks and Recreation Center at 205 Enos Farm Drive, sponsored by United to Empower, a nonprofit organization. The event includes food, music, presentations on history, face painting, vendors, voter registration and a health screening.

The festivities continue on June 19 with activities along Main Street in Smithfield. Dylan Pritchett, a past president of the National Association of Black Storytellers who’s narrated and acted in broadcast documentaries, will perform on the Main Street Square stage in front of The Smithfield Times office at 10:30 a.m., followed by The Juneteenth Choir at 11 a.m.

At 11:15 a.m., 12:15 p.m. and 2 p.m., The 1750 Courthouse will host “The Randall Booth Story.” Booth, an enslaved man, saved Isle of Wight County’s court records during the Civil War by placing them on a horse-drawn carriage and transporting them to the western part of the state in 1862.

At noon, “Sounds of Music” drummers will take the Main Street stage, followed by Turquoise School of Dance at 1 p.m.

Throughout the day, from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., arts and craft vendors and tours will be available at The Schoolhouse Museum, a circa-1932 addition to the former Christian Home School that was moved to its present location at 516 Main St. in 2005 and opened two years later as a museum dedicated to the African American educational experience of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Bank of Southside Virginia will also host a food court from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. in its Main Street parking lot.

The festivities are jointly sponsored by the Isle of Wight County NAACP, Schoolhouse Museum, Bank of Southside Virginia, town of Smithfield, Blackwater Regional Library, Isle of Wight County Historical Society, Smithfield and Isle of Wight County Tourism, Smithfield Foods, and the Isle of Wight County Museum.

The festivities conclude on June 22 with an Isle of Wight County Historical Society lecture on Isaac Holleman, also known as Isaac Holliman, presented by members of the Holleman/Holliman family history research team at 2:30 p.m. in the auditorium of Georgie D. Tyler Middle School in Windsor.

“This is an amazing story of enslavement, emancipation and independence throughout the 19th century and continuing through the Reconstruction era,” states a Historical Society news release.

According to the Historical Society, Holleman was born into slavery in 1818 to Josiah Holleman, a landowner from the western part of the county near the Blackwater River, and an unknown enslaved woman. By 1836, Josiah had applied to the court for Isaac’s emancipation but roughly a decade later, when Josiah made his will, he referred to Isaac as enslaved. When Josiah died shortly after, his estate’s executor sold Isaac for $355 to Richard Urquhart of “Clements” and “Strawberry Plains” plantations. Isaac eventually made his way to Fort Monroe in Hampton during the Civil War, becoming emancipated for the second time in his life as “contraband,” the U.S. Army’s term for escaped slaves.

The school itself is named for Isle of Wight’s Black history. Georgie D. Tyler began teaching in a one-room schoolhouse and was later superintendent of schools for Black students during segregation. Georgie D. Tyler Middle was named in her honor when it opened in 2014.