The second annual “Journey to Juneteenth ” celebration organized by the City of Gainesville was inaugurated with a commemoration of emancipation in Florida.
Leaders and community members in Gainesville gathered in front of City Hall Saturday morning for the raising of the Juneteenth flag. The celebration of Florida Emancipation Day continued Saturday evening with a Florida Emancipation Day Program and Fish Fry at the Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center.
Juneteenth, which is the oldest national recognition of emancipation, is now recognized as a federal holiday as of June 17, 2021, when President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law. Juneteenth, short for June 19, the day it is celebrated, marks the day in 1865 when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, nearly three years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation to seize control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people were granted freedom. However, it was May 20, 1865, when emancipation was proclaimed in the Sunshine State.
Friday morning, the flag-raising ceremony began with the recital of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the Black National Anthem written by James Weldon Johnson. Mayor Pro-tem Reina Saco then proclaimed Florida Emancipation Day throughout the city at the event.
From there, multiple local leaders such as Gainesville city manager Cynthia Curry, delivered speeches about the importance of understanding our nation’s history. Gainesville commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker even shared that some of her ancestors were once enslaved at the Haile Plantation in Gainesville. One of the active messages that was uttered by each of the presenters during the ceremony was that it is crucial for the community to attain knowledge of the history of African-Americans.
That same message was emphasized during the Florida Emancipation Day Program and Fish Fry held at the Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center in Gainesville. The program featured multiple members of the Gainesville community presenting various acts such as spoken word, singing and even a lesson on the art of drumming. All of which recognized the trials and tribulations of Africans who were once enslaved in this country. The Cotton Club Museum is one of the multiple organizations that partnered with the City of Gainesville for the “Journey to Juneteenth” celebration. Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center Board Member Deloris Rentz served as the host of the program. She led the crowd through several interactive history lessons that offered insight to the origins of Florida Emancipation Day and Juneteenth. Rentz said that she was excited to have a hand in educating the local community on our state’s history.
“I think education is so important, and since we’ve been talking about May 20, there are so many things that people don’t know that they are delighted to learn, and so when they get excited, I get excited,” she said.
Excitement is a fitting term to describe the audience at the Cotton Club Museum as they received the information provided by Rentz. One of the ways Rentz engaged the audience in a history lesson was through a preliminary Q&A session called “Why Are We Here?” that offered some insight to the information that would be shared throughout the program.
One member in the audience that stood out was Gainesville High School sophomore Jasper Anderson. His hand instantly shot up, signaling he knew the answer whenever a question was posed. His knowledge of the Civil War and Juneteenth impressed the crowd.
“I think that we should all have a basic understanding of this holiday because it is so important in our society,” he said.
During the presentation, Deloris Rentz explained the foundation of the holiday and clarified many misconceptions surrounding the history of enslaved Africans in the U.S. From the explanation of Abraham Lincoln’s involvement in emancipation to her description of the tribulations African-Americans continued to face despite emancipation, she helped orchestrate an idea of the journey from emancipation to the present day.
“Juneteenth was a major step in the more diversified society we have today,” Anderson added.
Rentz also discussed previous ways in which the museum has commemorated Florida Emancipation Day in the past. She shared that previously, programs at the museum featured speakers from Tallahassee who offered insight into Florida Emancipation Day in the state’s capital.
“They were educating us about May 20 and the events and how those things related to the 13th Amendment,” she said.
The city of Tallahassee recognizes May 20 as Emancipation Day and is a paid holiday for city employees as the city is where the celebration inaugurated.
In Gainesville, the “Journey to Juneteenth” celebration is a month-long affair that goes from May 20 to June 19. As the city honors the journey to freedom, future scheduled events include a movie night at Depot Park on Saturday and even a Freedom Festival on June 18.
More information and dates are available on cityofgainesville.org.