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First-of-Its-Kind Juneteenth Celebration Hosted at Carlyle House

the John Carlyle House front lawn with visitors and tents and vendors
The John Carlyle House hosted a Juneteenth celebration on Sunday June 19, in collaboration with the Athenaeum and poet C. Thomas. (Photo Grace Billups Arnold)

ALEXANDRIA, VA–On Sunday, June 19, a Juneteenth Celebration was held at Carlyle House. The celebration, organized by local poet C. Thomas, in partnership with the Athenaeum and Carlyle House, featured local artwork, spoken word performance by black poets (including Alexandria’s newest Poet Laureate Zeina Azzam), apparel, and free admission to the Carlyle House Museum.

local photography pictures two abstract colorful images in black frames on eagles
Local art and photography was also on display. (Photo Grace Billups Arnold)

Last year, the museum along with the Athenaeum came to local black poet and artist C. Thomas with the idea to host a Juneteenth celebration, as last year the first official year in recognition of the national holiday.

a man wears a black sweater and red had on the John Carlyle Terrace
Local artist and poet C. Thomas announces the spoken word artists of the day. (Photo Grace Billups Arnold)

“[The Athenaeum and Carlyle House] wanted to have a black voice to put this together, and they trusted me to orchestrate it,” states Thomas.

Poet Laureate Zeina Azzam performed a selection of poems she wrote specifically for the day. She also touched on Father’s Day.

Alexandria's poet laureate Zeina Azzam stands on the back terrace of Carlyle House with her hand to her chest
Alexandria’s Poet Laureate Zeina Azzam. (Photo Grace Billups Arnold)

“I’m just so honored to be part of this celebration and commemoration,” remarked Azzam. “I think Juneteenth has so much history for us, in terms of talking about liberation, but also talking about justice delayed, and so I think it is really important for us to be facing history, but Juneteenth is also a day to remember what had happened in the past and what the promise of the future is. Juneteenth is a way to think about how we can move forward while at the same time honoring the past, facing the past, understanding the past, and educating each other about what went on.”

poet khalil houston stands with his hands pointing out to a crowd in front of him
Poet Khalil Houston came up from Richmond to perform at the Juneteenth celebration. (Photo Grace Billups Arnold)

Other poets in attendance included Enoch the Poet from Philadelphia, Khalil Houston from Richmond, and Simply Sherri from Washington DC. You can find them all on social media at @enochthepoet, @khalil_houston, and @simplypoeticentertainment.

Enoch the Poet stands looking down at his phone with his hand on his chest
Enoch the Poet was invited from Philadelphia to share his story. (Photo Grace Billups Arnold)

The museum was also open for free tours on Juneteenth. The Carlyle House Museum was the former home to John Carlyle, a Scottish merchant who built the house in 1751. Today it houses rotating exhibits inside, a lush garden and courtyard outside, and citizens can tour the establishment as it once was in the 18th century.

sign that reads Museum Open For Tours
The museum was open for free tours for Juneteenth. (Photo Grace Billups Arnold)

Thomas emphasizes, “Black voices need to be elevated and what better way to do it than through poetry, through the arts, conversation, uncomfortable conversations. Old Town has a very rooted history in slavery. I hope this event and other events like this open eyes, hearts, and mouths so we can bring sunlight to the shadow slowly being removed from the subject.”

a canvas portrait of a black woman in sunglasses in multi chromatic shade
Local art and photography was also on display. (Photo Grace Billups Arnold)

This event, the first of its kind in Alexandria since Juneteenth was declared a national holiday in 2021, is slated to become an annual celebration.

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