Fearing Mother Nature might have her way, participants of Gainesville’s Juneteenth Freedom Walk got a reprieve as cloudy skies played peek-a-boo with the sun Saturday morning.
“The walk provides an educational experience in the community where you see people across the community come together to learn some of the real pieces of history that aren’t always taught in school,” said Gainesville resident Tara Blythe.
Approximately 100 community members made their way to Depot Park for the 5K trail around Southeast Gainesville that weaved through historically Black neighborhoods. Placards placed along the trail offered lessons on Black history — that included slavery, emancipation and post- reconstruction.
“Events like this and anything that can support Black culture in America, especially African American history, is important because normally what we hear about is white-centered history,” said Macy Geiger, a teacher at P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School.
“In 1776, people who look like me were not free. My ancestors were enslaved. It is important for me to participate because our city recognizes this important history,” said Yvette Carter, director of government affairs and community relations for the city of Gainesville.
Before kicking off the walk at 8 a.m., city officials and organizers handed out participation T-shirts and presented a brief history of the journey to Juneteenth and its significance.
“African Americans have used their feet to gain freedom and to march for alienable rights. The Journey to Freedom 5K is commemorative of all the efforts and importance of Juneteenth,” said Carter.
Now a federal holiday in the United States, Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans, which occurred on June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas. It is often referred to as “Journey to Juneteenth” because despite President Lincoln’s proclamation, two years passed before Florida declared enslaved African Americans free on May 20, 1865. A month would go by before news reached the enslaved people in Galveston. Celebrations have been had around the country each year on the anniversary.
“The city of Gainesville does such a good job of pulling people in and in a kind way in celebration while reeducating some of the things that need to be reeducated,” said Blythe.
Florida is one of several states that have banned teaching the widely talked about Critical Race Theory despite its absence from K-12 curriculums. Florida’s “Stope the WOKE Act” allows the banning of a host of books that significantly impacted Black history, such as — “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou and denied books deemed to have “race-based teaching.”
“I was lucky enough to participate last year. I brought my best friend’s daughter who stopped and read every sign and by the end of the walk she was in tears because she never learned any of this history in school,” said Blythe.
Although Juneteenth is a recognized federal holiday, the state of Florida has yet to recognize it as a state holiday. However, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, issued a proclamation on Friday — recognizing Sunday, June 19 as Juneteenth.
“African Americans in the state of Florida are a major part of all facets of life in this state. Recognizing our freedom and the journey to that freedom is very important,” said Carter.