Winston-Salem Celebrates Juneteenth

Luncheon will kick off celebration on June 15; festival will be held on June 17

By Elizabeth Bergstone

What is “Juneteenth”?

Two years before the end of the Civil War, President Lincoln published his Emancipation Proclamation, which made known that all enslaved people in Confederate states in rebellion against the Union “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” It was supposed to take effect on January I, 1863, but it wasn’t until the end of the Civil War in 1865 that efforts were made to bring the Southern States into compliance.

Two months later, Union General Gordon Granger sailed into Galveston harbor, Texas, with 2,000 Union soldiers, to occupy the state on behalf of the federal government. On June 19, 1865, he read aloud the General Order #3 announcing that all slaves were now free. This signaled the emancipation of the last remaining slaves in the United States.

The following year, former slaves in Texas celebrated the first festival of “Juneteenth,” (short for “June nineteenth”). Gradually, as former Texas slaves moved away and settled elsewhere, Juneteenth celebrations sprang up in many other states. Juneteenth is now celebrated in almost every state in America, as well as places as far away as South Korea, Japan, Israel, France, Germany, China, and many more. Today Juneteenth is recognized as the longest-running observance of the abolition of slavery.

How did Juneteenth begin in Winston-Salem?

It wasn’t until the early 1990s that a Juneteenth observance occurred in Winston-Salem. About that time Pat Stepney, Founder of the NC Association of Black Storytellers, was invited to attend a Juneteenth celebration in Greensboro.  Right away she determined that Winston-Salem should have its own Juneteenth celebration. She started organizing a local Juneteenth celebration, together with members of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church. In 1998 the Winston Lake YMCA began sponsoring a Juneteenth celebration under the direction of its then Youth Director, Cheryl Harry, and soon the two events combined to become a community-wide celebration. Harry founded Triad Cultural Arts, Inc. to be the presenting organization of the Juneteenth Festival, and recruited Rep. Larry Womble to be its first chairman. In 2007 Rep. Womble sponsored a bill in the N.C. Legislature which was signed by Governor Mike Easley, recognizing Juneteenth as National Freedom Day.

How will Juneteenth be celebrated in Winston-Salem

Juneteenth festivities in Winston-Salem will begin on Thursday, June 15, with a luncheon at 12 noon. in the James A. Gray Auditorium at Old Salem. In celebration of the 195th anniversary of St. Philips Moravian Church and the 125th anniversary of Winston-Salem State University, the program will feature a reflection by community members on the shared history of the two organizations.
For more information and to make reservations go to and click on the calendar of events for June.

On Saturday, June 17, from 12 noon to 7 p.m., Juneteenth festivities will take place at the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter at 575 North Patterson Avenue. The outdoor events will be held at Bailey Park on Fifth Street; indoor events will be housed in the Biotech Place Atrium. For a complete listing of music, dance and other events, go to and click on the Juneteenth Festival tab.

Elizabeth Bergstone is the former editor of the Downtown Winston-Salem newspaper. She has written for numerous local publications and currently works as a voiceover actor and an audio book narrator.


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