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Wheeling Marks Juneteenth With Passionate Ceremony

WHEELING – The city held events Saturday to honor Juneteenth – commemorating the official end of slavery in the United States and the nation’s newest federal holiday.

Ron Scott Jr., cultural diversity and community outreach director with the Wheeling YWCA, who served as Master of Ceremonies for the Juneteenth observance at Market Plaza, said the day’s activities began at the Grave Creek Mound Museum in Moundsville with a presentation about the history of Juneteenth in the Upper Ohio Valley.

He said from there, a late afternoon program held at Wheeling’s Market Plaza was more “ceremonial” and a time for “remembrance and reflection.” Following the Market Plaza ceremony, events moved down to Wheeling’s Heritage Port with a line-up of entertainment and vendors as part of the celebration of the holiday.

With nearly 250 people in attendance at the Market Plaza event, speakers for the ceremonial portion of the event at Market Plaza included Loma Nevels, a Wheeling Human Rights commissioner; West Liberty University President W. Franklin Evans; West Virginia NAACP President Owens Brown; Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott; and Rev. Twyla Davis performing a libation ceremony at the conclusion of the Market Plaza event.

“I think to talk about Juneteenth, you must understand some of the history of slavery in this country,” Brown said, noting the slave trade as being the largest trans-Atlantic forced migration in human history.

“August 20, 1619, also marked the date that the criminalization of the North American continent began. The selling of human beings became the most lucrative enterprise in the world for the next 100 years. The question of the immorality of the slave trade was global.”

He went on to explain the atrocities that occured over hundreds of years as a result of slavery.

“For 246 years enslaved black people lived in a world of tyranny and fear for their lives,” he explained.

Nevels followed Brown by speaking about Juneteenth and the celebration of freedom.

“Let us remember that this day is a celebration of Black liberation and reflections regarding our ancestral roots,” Nevels said. “View life as a challenge and not a threat.”

Evans spoke about “looking ahead” in a very passionate speech.

“So this Juneteenth celebration in 2021 is special. It is special because the celebration continues in many ways. It is special because this is the first federal holiday since 1983 that’s come into existence,” he explained.

Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott also spoke about the history of atrocities that occured in Wheeling through the slave trade.

“Today we gather on the very site where weekly auctions of enslaved African people took place without shame and with full protection of the law,” he said.

He said the day’s events were about “remembrance” and “hopefully to foster an enlightened understanding of what is one of the darkest chapters on not only Wheeling history, but also American history.”

“We know that we cannot undo what has been done and we know we can not explain the inexplicable, but hopefully we can learn from the mistakes of those who preceded us in our everlasting quest of seeking that more perfect union to which our founding documents direct us,” he added.

The Market Plaza event concluded with Rev. Twyla Davis performing a libation ceremony. Davis said the ceremony represented “washing away what was” in the space where slaves were once sold at auction, and ushering in the wonderful things occurring now and moving forward.

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