Tshombe Selby headlines third annual Juneteenth celebration in Manteo

By on June 18, 2023

Tshombe Selby sings at the third annual Juneteenth celebration at Pea Island Cookhouse Museum in Manteo. (Photos by Corinne Saunders)
Tshombe Selby sings at the third annual Juneteenth celebration at Pea Island Cookhouse Museum in Manteo, accompanied by local music teacher John Buford. (Photos by Corinne Saunders)
Coquetta Brooks, event emcee and PIPSI secretary, introduced each speaker at the third annual Juneteenth celebration. (Photos by Corinne Saunders)
Barkley Collins, a youth volunteer with the nonprofit Pea Island Preservation Society, Inc. (PIPSI), shared why Juneteenth is important. (Photos by Corinne Saunders)
James Melvin smiles as Joan Collins explains the significance of his painting, "The Freedmen's School." (Photos by Corinne Saunders)
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Tshombe Selby’s soaring voice captivated the approximately 140 attendees and brought unique energy to his rendition of the national anthem during the opening of the third annual Juneteenth celebration on June 17 outside the Pea Island Cookhouse Museum on Sir Walter Raleigh Street in Manteo.

In her welcoming remarks, Coquetta Brooks, event emcee and secretary of the nonprofit Pea Island Preservation Society, Inc. (PIPSI), which hosts the event, made light of how the audience held its collective breath as Selby “jumped octaves” during the song.

Juneteenth, a shortening of “June 19,” honors the day in 1865—two and a half years after former President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation—when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to ensure freedom for the enslaved people there. An annual celebration of that day began in Texas and spread across the country.  President Joe Biden designated Juneteenth a national holiday on June 17, 2021.

“It’s important to celebrate American leaps and bounds, and this was a leap in the right direction,” Selby told the Voice, when speaking of the significance of Juneteenth. “It’s important because it happened, and it’s a good thing it happened.”

Early in the event, Brooks asked the crowd to stand for “The Negro National Anthem.” The powerful hymn NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson penned in 1900, alternatively titled, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” tells of the trials African Americans experienced in this country and of their prayer and hope in God for the future.

Accompanied by local music teacher John Buford, Selby also sang seven other songs in a diverse repertoire spanning musical genres and centuries. The audience joined in for “Lean on Me,” and Selby ended with “Make Them Hear You,” a musically and lyrically moving piece that starts with: “Go out and tell our story/Let it echo far and wide/Make them hear you.”

This year’s local celebration was called, “The Sounds of Freedom”, and Selby’s performance was the highlight of the event. An artistic representation of Selby’s face was featured on event T-shirts, and he quipped that he felt honored to be on a shirt while he is still alive.

A graduate of Manteo High School and of Elizabeth City State University, Selby now sings at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. He grew up singing at home and at his church in Manteo, and he credits the local community for helping him pursue his dreams as an opera singer.

“Tshombe Selby has just a great voice, and the first year, he did a lot of gospel tunes with his own kind of style that we really enjoyed,” Margie Dinger of Kitty Hawk told the Voice at the event. She has attended all three Juneteenth celebrations in Manteo and called the event “inspiring.”

Barkley Collins, a PIPSI youth volunteer and the grandson of PIPSI President Darrell Collins, asked attendees to imagine “what the hope of freedom meant” to the formerly enslaved people who sought refuge on Roanoke Island during the Civil War, and to “reflect on the cost of freedom and honor those who paid the price.”

Collins told the audience that like many local residents, his ancestors “include people who sought freedom, safety and a better life at the Freedmen’s Colony once located on Roanoke Island.”

Isabel Gonzalez of the National Park Service also spoke at the event about the new project to bring life-size silhouettes and personal stories of Freedmen’s Colony members through outdoor exhibits along the Freedom Trail at the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site in Manteo.

The result of a Union victory in the 1862 Battle of Roanoke Island, the Freedmen’s Colony existed through 1867 and included more than 500 buildings and “3,500 men, women and children living here seeking freedom,” Gonzalez said.

“It’s important to connect history with their community, and the community with their history,” Gonzalez said. “The Freedmen’s Colony is a really important part of Outer Banks history…and it really makes Manteo what it is today. Many of the individuals who lived in the Freedmen’s Colony worked as surfmen.”

Joan Collins, director of education and outreach for PIPSI, encouraged attendees to purchase shirts to support the nonprofit, which honors the legacy of the surfmen who worked for the U.S. Life-Saving Service, the Coast Guard’s predecessor.

The event also included an unveiling of the newest painting by award-winning local artist James Melvin. Titled, “The Freedmen’s School,” Melvin’s oil-on-canvas painting depicts the first time formerly enslaved people could legally learn to read on Roanoke Island—with students of all ages and a teacher each holding a book outside the wooden school building.

Rev. Dr. Michelle Lewis, who, like Selby and Collins, is a descendant of Pea Island life-savers, opened the event with prayer and also gave closing remarks, in which she encouraged people to share their power, resources, wealth and love in continuing work toward freedom.

“I’m here today because there were people who died so that I could be free,” Lewis said. “Don’t let your work towards freedom stop today, because there are so many people who are still oppressed in our communities.”


A recording of the celebration can be viewed on the Pea Island Preservation Society’s Facebook page.



Comments

  • Drajon

    One helluva singer.

    Monday, Jun 19 @ 11:59 am
  • John Neighbors

    Anyone have a video or audio recording of this that they would share? Thanks!

    Monday, Jun 19 @ 12:45 pm
  • Drajon

    I don’t know why the link did not work, but if you Google the following, you will get it on their Facebook page.

    tshombe selby national anthem

    Monday, Jun 19 @ 4:42 pm