CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Bells tolled at the University of Virginia’s chapel on Wednesday afternoon commemorating Liberation and Freedom Day, the start of a long path to freedom for enslaved laborers.
It was there, on March 3 in 1865, when town and university officials surrendered to Union troops making their way south, the first step to emancipation of enslaved laborers.
In a virtual panel called “Marching Toward Emancipation: Commemorating the Arrival of Union Troops in Charlottesville,” hosted by the Lifetime Learning program at UVA’s Office of Engagement, historians and researchers reflected on the importance of the historic date.
“It’s important a day, a symbolic day to take in all that it means. What came before and what came after,” said Caroline Janey, director of the UVA Nau Center for Civil War History.
In 2017, 152 years after that historic day, the city of Charlottesville officially proclaimed March 3 the official Liberation and Freedom Day.
“Charlottesville has come late to idea of Liberation and Freedom Day in Charlottesville that occurred in 1865. We’ve come late to it, but we’ve come to it,” said Ervin Jordan, a research archivist and author.
Panelists said at the time more than half of Charlottesville and Albemarle County’s population were made up of Black enslaved laborers, with many working at the university or at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.
Jordan said the arrival of the Union soldiers did not mean immediate freedom, but was merely a starting point.
“When these Union officers arrived, for a few days maybe, slaves could consider themselves to be free, but it was really not the case,” Jordan said.
As historians shed light on the march to freedom, panelists say this celebration is also just one step in honoring its past.
“This is the kind of cultural work that is going on now in many places going on, including Charlottesville to prioritize how we remember and what we remember,” said Jalane Schmidt, director of the The Memory Project.
The Jefferson School African American Heritage Center will be celebrating Liberation and Freedom Day with several more events from March 3-6.