Residents gathered at city hall Thursday morning to raise a flag representing the emancipation of slaves in the U.S. and to kick off a celebration “Journey to Juneteenth” from May 20 to June 19.
Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe spoke to a crowd of about 20 people at the event.
“This is a very special morning and very special event,” he said. “The real vision is to grow this into a true celebration that people look forward to all year, that people travel to Gainesville to learn about their history, to celebrate our present and to help build our future.”
Teneeshia Marshall, director of the Office of Equity for Gainesville, said that creating the event became personal after researching her family history.
“I think it highlights a need in our community — definitely for education. Obviously, we have really fun events but we really want this to be an educational event too,” she said. “A lot of times when you hear things about Juneteenth you automatically think of slavery and the disdain from that but we really wanted to highlight the resilience of Africans in America.”
A variety of activities are planned for the event. Web series, book clubs, movie screenings and art exhibits are just a few that people can enjoy and use to educate themselves about Black history.
This is a celebration people have been waiting many years for, said Sherry Sherrod Dupree, a historian and a librarian for Santa Fe College.
“We need these days to help us understand who we are,” she said. “We need to understand that these things occurred, we need to educate all cultures and we need to celebrate together.”
Juneteenth is known as “the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.” The Juneteenth flag itself has special meaning.
The bursting star in the middle represents the end of slavery in the U.S., the curved line represents new horizons, and the red, white and blue reminds how slaves and their descendants are American citizens.
City Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker said that she felt a connection to the event as a Black woman because of those enslaved at Halie Plantation and those who escaped the massacre at Rosewood, Florida.
“That’s a part of my families’ history that I’m familiar with, that I can say and this is how we were liberated, and this is how we learned of our emancipation, this is why this is important,” she said. “It’s a deeply…deeply spiritual experience for me.”
Vivian Filer, chairman of the Cotton Club Museum and Culture Center in Gainesville, said that she was most excited about the celebrations for May 20, which include two web seminars discussing how this month-long event will evolve in the future.
“All of the emancipation days should be celebrated. I don’t have a problem with celebrating June 19, it’s just that Florida can’t claim it as its day,” she said. “We need to make a big push for celebrating May 20 — that’s my gospel and I preach it.”