Virginia Tech recently approved Juneteenth as an official university holiday in honor of June 19, 1865.

Also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, and Black Independence Day, Juneteenth marks the occasion in 1865 when Gordan Granger, a Union general, arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform enslaved people of their freedom and the Civil War’s end. The following year, many of the formerly enslaved commemorated the anniversary by organizing a celebration, which has grown into today’s holiday.

The name Juneteenth comes from combining June and 19. It became a permanent holiday in Virginia in October 2020 and a permanent federal holiday in June 2021.

The university will honor the holiday by memorializing those who were enslaved on campus at Solitude, the oldest structure on campus, which came into existence around 1840.

Stories passed down from several generations have shared that, 100 years prior to Solitude’s existence, a white oak tree, that started as a mere sapling, stood in all its glory in front of the history Smithfield Plantation. Roots planted deep within the ground to take nourishment from the earth as the limbs reached toward the heavens. Also known as the Merry Tree, it provided food while at the same time it held whispered secrets, wishes, and prayers of the people who met in its shade.

Virginia Tech’s Office for Inclusion and Diversity, in partnership with Solitude, will start a new tradition by inviting cultures from around the world to take their wishes, hopes, and prayers written on ribbons or paper, and tie them to a tree.  Once secured, each time the sun rises or the wind blows, the wind carries the wishes or helps lighten burdens.

The university arborist has given permission to use the weeping cherry tree by the pond in front of Solitude as the new Wishing Tree. The tree will become a place for members of the community to unload their burdens or speak their secrets. The area will also become a place to pray for peace for those who have passed and pray for healing for those who suffer.

The inaugural event will be held on Sunday, June 19, at 9 a.m. The event will begin with lifting the names of enslaved people from greater Smithfield and Solitude to the tree to remember them.

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