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Wheeling Juneteenth Celebrations To Wrap Up Tonight

|Photo by Emma Delk| Abby Lewis paints a section of the Wheeling Juneteenth mural on Tuesday.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct a reporter’s error that listed one of the musical acts at Wheeling’s Juneteenth celebration as being performed by Ezra Miller. The artist actually was Ezra Hamilton.

WHEELING – As community members brought depictions of four black community leaders to life by adding color to the designs on Tuesday, Wheeling Juneteenth Committee Chairman Ron Scott Jr. could feel the excitement build for today’s Juneteenth Celebration.

“This has been one of the best lead-ups to Juneteenth in the city because people are showing up and enjoying themselves,” Scott said Tuesday. “We had folks in the past showing up with the attitude of, ‘OK, let’s see what this Juneteenth is all about.’ This year, they’re not showing up for a crash course in black history but instead are just coming to have fun with us while celebrating the holiday.”

Beginning Sunday, each day this week offered a unique Black history-centered activity for residents to enjoy, organized by the Wheeling Juneteenth Committee. Tuesday’s mural painting was the final event scheduled before tonight’s Juneteenth Celebration, which will be held at 6 p.m. at Wheeling Heritage Port.

The ceremony will begin with music provided by Voices of Praise of Macedonia Baptist Church. From there, various speakers, including city leadership and NAACP representatives, will take the stage to give speeches.

Speakers during the opening ceremony include Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott, Men of Change Vice President Hayden Cook, West Virginia NAACP President Darryl Clausell, Wheeling NAACP Branch member Owens Brown, Wheeling Human Rights Commission member Unique Robinson-Murphy and Nathan Rouse.

After speeches, Ezra Hamilton will take the stage at 7 p.m. in conjunction with the weekly Waterfront Wednesdays at Heritage Port.

“I’m hoping that the speakers really bring it this year, and with Ezra performing, his name speaks for itself,” Scott said. “I think this is going to be one of the best Juneteenth celebrations we’ve had in the city.”

Juneteenth celebrations kicked off Sunday with a Soul Food Cook-Off held by the YWCA in collaboration with Wheeling Heritage and Towngate Theater. Scott said more than 85 hungry residents attended the event to judge the best soul food in categories including greens, potato salad and cornbread.

“People were asking during the cookoff, ‘When is the next one happening?’ so I knew people were having a good time,” Scott recalled. “Food and cooking is a universal topic, so people were not shy when talking about what greens or sweets they liked. Soul food can’t be nailed to exactly one thing when opened to an entire community like on Sunday.”

The festivities took an educational turn Monday during Ohio County Public Library’s Juneteenth Special Edition Lunch with Books featuring Raymond Thompson Jr. During the program, Thompson displayed photos from his book “Appalachian Ghost: A Photographic Reimagining of the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel Disaster,” which recreates workers’ experiences of Hawk’s Nest through photography using primary source materials.

The 1930s disaster was a large-scale incident of occupational lung disease in the mostly black population of construction workers who mined the Hawks Nest Tunnel near Gauley Bridge, West Virginia.

“I didn’t know anything about the tragedy, and I found the presentation very informative,” Scott said. “I was surprised by how many people in the audience knew about Hawk’s Nest already. I’m a big fan of the medium of photography as an art form and seeing all his work was just great.”

The last celebration before the holiday on Tuesday invited locals to add color to drawings by local artist Vondel Bell depicting local black leaders Anne Thomas and Leon “Chu” Berry and national black leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.

Anne Thomas was the first black registered nurse in the city and the wife of Wheeling Ironman and Councilman Clyde Thomas. Born and raised in Wheeling, Berry was a prominent tenor saxophone player in the jazz world whose life was cut short in his early 30s by an automobile accident.

According to Wheeling Heritage Programming Director Alex Panas, after the mural is displayed during the Juneteenth Celebration, it will remain at the Wheeling Artisan Center through the “end of the month.” From there, Wheeling Heritage, the Wheeling Arts Commission and the YWCA will decide where the mural will go next.

Wheeling Heritage Programming Director Alex Panas, who coordinated the art project, noted the mural is centered around the theme of this year’s Wheeling Juneteenth Celebrations: “Our Ancestors’ Wildest Dreams.”

“I think it’s really important to highlight all of our local figures because even though Juneteenth is a national celebration, cities have local ties to the holiday,” Panas said. “Juneteenth is just as much a day of remembrance as it is an opportunity to celebrate how far we’ve come as a nation, so being able to spotlight some of those people who have helped Wheeling progress is important.”

Scott found the mural encompassed his goal for Juneteenth activities in the city this year – to unite the community through celebration and commemoration.

“Juneteenth is not just a black holiday but a community holiday for all folks to come down and celebrate,” Scott said. “You might learn something or you might just come and enjoy yourself, but it is open to everyone.”

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