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Wheeling Juneteenth Festivities Will Begin on Sunday

Several Days of Events Lead up to Waterfront Celebration June 19

photo by: Emma Delk (file)

Ƶ members will gather at Heritage Port next Wednesday to commemorate the Juneteenth holiday.

WHEELING — From a soul food cook-off to collaborative mural painting, Juneteenth activities in Wheeling will offer plenty to commemorate and celebrate the holiday.

The main Juneteenth Celebration commemorating the end of slavery in America on June 19, 1865, will return to the city for a third time next Wednesday at Heritage Port.

The Wheeling Juneteenth Committee will host festivities again this year, with chair Ron Scott Jr. explaining that the events leading up to and on June 19 will focus on reflecting on the past and celebrating today. He noted that the theme of this year’s Juneteenth celebrations — “Our Ancestors’ Wildest Dreams” — calls on residents to remember Black history while acknowledging present-day progress.

“It feels weird calling Juneteenth a holiday because, while it is a time of remembrance, people also celebrate the holiday in the same way that many folks celebrate fallen veterans on Memorial Day,” noted Scott. “The idea of Black people being the last linchpin of freedom being removed should be something that everybody can rally around, and I think we can do that with celebrations along with reflections.”

Celebrations leading up to the holiday will begin this Sunday at 6 p.m. with the “Taste of Tradition: Soul Food Cook-Off and Film Screening” held at Towngate Theatre on Market Street.

The event, hosted by YWCA Wheeling in collaboration with Wheeling Heritage and Towngate Theater, invites residents and local restaurants to prepare their best soul food dishes. A panel of diverse judges and the general public will evaluate these foods.

The event is open to the public. The $5 admission gets an attendee six tickets to sample and vote on the soul food brought to the event by local restaurants and members of the public.

The categories of soul food to be judged will be greens, mashed potatoes, mac n’ cheese, chicken, cornbread and potato salad. Attendees will vote for the winner in each food category, and the judging panel will determine the best overall dish.

“I think soul food in itself is very culturally specific, but at the same time inclusive enough that anyone can come down and be a part of this and not feel like they’re shoehorning or intervening,” said Scott. “Cooking and eating are so universal that I feel like anyone can be a part of it.”

The cookoff is one aspect of Juneteenth events in the city that Scott noted will focus on the holiday’s celebratory aspect. He added another goal of the pre-festivities leading up to Juneteenth is to get the general public aware of the holiday and involved in celebrations.

“The soul food cook-off is great because it shows that a holiday like Juneteenth can be more normalized and not just thought of as a Black holiday,” added Scott. “We want to always bring Juneteenth events back to the idea that we are members of a community that is all in this together.”

Celebrations will continue on Monday with a Juneteenth Special Edition Lunch with Books featuring Raymond Thompson, Jr., at noon at the Ohio County Public Library. Thompson’s book “Appalachian Ghost: A Photographic Reimagining of the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel Disaster” recreates the workers’ experiences of Hawk’s Nest through photography using primary source materials.

Rounding out the leadup to the holiday is “A Juneteenth Ƶ Art Project: Our Ancestors’ Wildest Dreams” held on Tuesday, June 18 at Heritage Port with the time of the event still pending. Three commissioned murals that depict the outline of community members who have contributed to Black history will be unveiled at the ceremony.

Ƶ members will then be invited to fill in the figures depicted on the murals.

“They’re going to be giant art pieces that everybody in the community can come down and fill in,” said Scott. “People can bring their families and kids and get everyone involved to fill them in.”

After three days of pre-holiday activities, Juneteenth will be celebrated at Heritage Port during a free open-to-the-public event slated to begin at 6 p.m.

The ceremony will begin with music and entertainment provided by Voices of Praise of Macedonia Baptist Church. Following the choirs’ performance, various speakers including city and local NAACP leadership will take the stage.

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

Scott expressed excitement for the lineup of speakers, noting that this would be the last Juneteenth event Elliott would speak at as mayor after giving a speech at every celebration held in the city. He noted that Elliott had made it a point to commemorate the holiday in the city before Juneteenth was declared a federal holiday in 2021.

“One of the things that will always stick in my mind about (Elliott) is that it was brave and courageous of him to do that,” said Scott. “Making Juneteenth a holiday in the city could have only hurt him at the time because there are a lot of folks who say, ‘This is a fake, made-up holiday, why is this being celebrated?’ Elliott took a good approach of acknowledging the city’s role in the slave trade and showing the skeletons in the Ohio Valley’s closet.”

Scott also drew attention to two younger speakers rounding out the lineup: Robinson-Murphy and Rouse.

Robinson-Murphy, Wheeling Park High School’s Communities in Schools liaison, is a young person in the city Scott wants to “hold up in front of everyone.”

“Unique is someone who’s had to overcome things but she doesn’t let anything she’s overcome hold her back,” noted Scott. “She walks in a room and can see the potential in people, even if they don’t.”

Rouse, a senior at Bethany College, is a new addition to the Juneteenth speaker lineup. Scott explained Rouse’s “art and storytelling” in his “The Legacy of Jupiterman” comic book caught attention, noting Rouse was a young black person in the city with “ingenuity and passion.”

“He is carving his own path with comic books and making a living doing it,” noted Scott. “This is a kid who figured it out and is now doing what they love, and I admire young men like him a whole lot. He will inspire young people in the crowd and make older folks feel like “We’re in good hands.”

Musician Ezra Hamilton will also provide entertainment during the event, and a vendor market will be set up at Heritage Port.

For details on activities or the Juneteenth Celebration, visit wheelingjuneteenth.com.

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