By Chris Folks

St. Mary of the Mills Catholic Church in Laurel celebrated Juneteenth, which was formally recognized as a federal holiday in 2021, by placing a granite stone with an engraved plaque in the church’s cemetery. The memorial is a tribute to enslaved men, women and children who are buried in unmarked graves throughout the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington.

St. Mary of the Mills Juneteenth memorial honoring slaves
New memorial in St. Mary of the Mills Catholic church’s cemetery
Photo Credit: Chris Folks

Behind the St. Mary of the Mills Juneteenth Memorial 

The move to create a memorial began in the Archdiocese about two years ago, but the pandemic caused delays in bringing the effort to fruition. Rev. Larry Young, pastor at St. Mary of the Mills, said “divine choreography” brought everything together for placement of the stone on the Juneteenth holiday. Generous donations from the St. Mary of Mills’ parishioners laid the groundwork for the memorial, as well.

 To foster a spirit of reconciliation and unity throughout the community, Young and parishioners dedicated the marker with a prayer to the memory of enslaved people whose graves remain unmarked. 

History of Juneteenth

President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, but slaves in Texas didn’t know they were free until Union troops arrived in Galveston on June 19, 1865. The date became one of celebration and has long been known as Juneteenth, Juneteenth Independence Day and Freedom Day. President Biden declared Juneteenth a federal holiday in 2021.