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Virginia family searches for ancestors' graves on Juneteenth: 'They’re not forgotten'

Judith Epps Wansley: 'I hope they can see it, and realize that something is being done'
Posted at 7:45 PM, Jun 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-21 14:19:29-04

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- Dozens of local and state leaders gathered Saturday at Woodland Cemetery to remember those buried in the Henrico County graveyard who were once enslaved.

Judith Epps Wansley, whose grandparents are buried in the cemetery that dates back to 1916, and her husband were among those in attendance.

"Maurice R. Epps Sr. June 10, 1901 to June 30, 1986. His wife Annie R Epps, April 1, 1908 to October 31, 1999," Wansley read. “I never met my great-grandfather, but I briefly met my great-grandmother. I remember her up in the room at my grandmother's house."

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, the day the Union Army brought word to Galveston, Texas, that slavery had been outlawed in the United States. The day celebrates the end of slavery in the U.S. and is also known as Emancipation Day, Jubilee Day and Independence Day.

UNCUT: Biden signs bill making Juneteenth federal holiday

The U.S. House overwhelmingly passed legislation Wednesday to make Juneteenth a federal holiday a day after the U.S. Senate gave its approval.

President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law Thursday afternoon.

“Just the thought of what they had to live through, deal with, struggled and fight for," Del. Delores McQuinn said at Woodland Cemetery Saturday. "But today we have an opportunity as well to say thank you."

Wansley hopes this Juneteenth makes her ancestors proud.

“I hope they can see it, and realize that something is being done, and that they're not forgotten -- definitely not forgotten," Wansley added.

State and local leaders also stressed the importance of maintaining and preserving Virginia's African American burial grounds, many of which are the burial sites for the enslaved.

If you would like to volunteer with clean up at Wooland Cemetery, click here. For Evergreen Cemetery, click here.