Juneteenth, also called Jubilee Day, Freedom Day and Emancipation Day, is a holiday that takes place on June 19—the day that marks the emancipation of enslaved African-Americans from Galveston, Texas in 1865. While President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all enslaved people in the Confederate states in 1863 (it took the 13th Amendment for slaves living in Union states to be freed), the news didn’t make it to Texas, a Confederate state with minimal Union army presence, for two years. On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger finally arrived in Galveston, notifying the enslaved people of their freedom.
Juneteenth is generally considered to be the longest-running African-American holiday. Formerly enslaved Texans began celebrating this monumental day in 1866, the year after their emancipation. Last year President Joe Biden signed a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday.
“What we found out…is that prior to last year when Juneteenth was made a national holiday, people in Jacksonville knew very little about Juneteenth,” said Gary Thomas, president of the MLK Memorial Foundation, a Jacksonville-based non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the legacy of MLK and the Civil Rights Movement. Juneteenth celebrations began in Jacksonville 10 years ago, when the MLK Memorial Foundation realized few in the public sphere were acknowledging this day and its significance.
Although Juneteenth is not an official state holiday in Florida, this year’s Juneteenth will be the first that is a paid holiday for city workers in Jacksonville. Last October, the Jacksonville City Council voted 16-2 in favor of making Juneteenth a city holiday, four months after it became recognized as a federal holiday.
This year, there are numerous Juneteenth events happening around Jacksonville. For the first time, the MLK Memorial Foundation is hosting three days of family-friendly Juneteenth activities instead of one. The foundation kicks off the celebration on June 18 with the Juneteenth Freedom Walk from Eighth Street and Davis Street to the Ritz Theatre and Museum. “It’s a symbolic walk,” said Thomas. “It represents us walking from the plantation on a long torturous road to freedom.” Following the walk, the Ritz hosts the 10th Annual Juneteenth in Jacksonville Festival, featuring vendors and entertainment. The event will also promote education by providing books, learning materials, and information about educational services and products offered in Duval County. Other events during Juneteenth weekend include the Miss Juneteenth Scholarship Pageant, Juneteenth Father’s Day Family Reunion BBQ/Cookout and Juneteenth Jazz at James Weldon Johnson Park.
While Juneteenth is a day of celebration, Thomas emphasized it is also “a holiday to commemorate…to rejoice on one hand, but on the other hand, to reflect on where we are 157 years later and how much progress we’ve made.” This day encompasses the struggles of Black Americans, which is why the MLK Memorial Foundation’s events are operated “from the standpoint of reverence,” said Thomas.
Visit juneteenthinjacksonville.com for more information.