African American News and Genealogy

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Monday, June 20, 2005

At Berry Hill, looking into the past

Juneteenth event held on site where slaves once toiled BY JAMIE C. RUFF TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER Jun 20, 2005 SOUTH BOSTON -- George Samuel Powell knew about the Berry Hill plantation but had never visited until yesterday, when he attended a Juneteenth celebration on its grounds. Finally able to see the place, he marveled at its Greek Revival architecture, considered one of the finest examples in the country, and took the opportunity to stretch out on one of the mansion's beds. "Beautiful," the 74-year-old Halifax County resident declared of the experience and celebration. "Everything was beautiful. I've never been to a place like this." Then, he added, "I think it was beautiful for us to come out today." For Powell and others, the former slave plantation was a fitting place to celebrate Juneteenth, also known as African-American Independence Day. It commemorates June 19, 1865, the date that news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached those still in bondage in Galveston, Texas. The estate, which recently reopened as Berry Hill Plantation Resort, was the site of Halifax County's largest Juneteenth celebration to date. As projected, about 400 people turned out for the event, which included guided and self-guided tours of the mansion, several singing performances, a presentation of papers on "What It Means To Be African-American" by several high school and middle school students, and food provided by a combination of potluck from visitors and fare purchased by sponsors. A former tobacco plantation, Berry Hill was built in 1842 and has a cemetery on the property where 3,000 slaves are buried. Next visit, Powell said, that's where he wants to go. "I don't want to be in a hurry," he said. "I want to take my time and think."


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