Ornamental Separator

Special Event: Juneteenth Sunrise Service

Special Events

Open to the Public

To commemorate the triumphant spirit of the African American journey, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation will host its second annual Juneteenth Sunrise Service on Sunday morning, June 16, at 6 a.m. at the majestic Compton Oak on Market Square. This landmark tree symbolizes life, endurance, shelter, and joy. Special keynote address by world-renowned poet and writer Nikki Giovanni. 
The Juneteenth Sunrise Service is inspired by “Watch Night” (also referred to as “Freedom’s Eve”)—a tradition in Black churches across the United States born out of the enslaved community’s “waiting for the hour” on the night of December 31, 1862. With the coming dawn, the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863. 
The first documented Sunrise Service was conducted for Easter in 1732 by the Moravian community in Herrnhut, Germany. It appears that Moravians who came to the American colonies spread the tradition, which was taken up by several denominations, including Black and white churches. Southern Black churches sometimes combined the Easter Sunrise Service with an all-night vigil, such as the Easter Rock, which still survives in Louisiana. Sunrise Services in Black churches also celebrated other significant events, like the fall of Wilmington, North Carolina, to Union forces in February 1865.

Dates & Times

Special Event: Juneteenth Sunrise Service

Compton Oak

Sunrise Service Keynote: Nikki Giovanni

World-Renowned Poet, Writer, Commentator

Nikki Giovanni remains as determined and committed as ever to the fight for civil rights and equality. Always insisting on presenting the truth as she sees it, she has maintained a prominent place as a strong voice of the black community. Her focus is on the individual—specifically, the power one has to make a difference in oneself and in the lives of others.Giovanni has written more than two dozen books, including volumes of poetry, illustrated children’s books, and three collections of essays. Her book Racism 101 includes bold, controversial essays about the situation of Americans on all sides of various race issues.

She has received 21 honorary doctorates and a host of other awards, including Woman of the Year titles from three different magazines and the Governors’ Awards in the Arts from both Tennessee and Virginia. Rosa, her biography of legendary civil rights activist Rosa Parks, won Caldecott Honors and the Coretta Scott King Medal for best illustrated book. Other books include the collection of adult poetry Acolytes and the novel On My Journey Now: Looking at African American History Through the Spirituals. Three of her volumes of poetry—Love Poems, Blues: For All the Changes, and Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea—were winners of the NAACP Image Award in 1998, 2000, and 2003. Her newly released collection, Bicycles: Love Poems, has been called one of her “most powerful offerings to date” by Essence magazine.

Since 1987, Nikki Giovanni has taught writing and literature at Virginia Tech, where she is a distinguished professor. As a devoted and passionate writer, teacher, and speaker, she inspires not only her students but also readers and audiences nationwide. Her album Truth Is on Its Way, in which she reads her poetry against a background of gospel music, was a top 100 album and was named Best Spoken Word Album by the National Association of Radio and Television Announcers. The Nikki Giovanni Poetry Collection, a spoken-word CD, was a finalist for the 2003 Grammy Award in the category of spoken word.

Other Experiences