Nothing — not lightning, thunder nor pouring rain — could keep close to 100 attendees away from Friday’s Juneteenth Breakfast.
The guests had grits, bacon and music on their minds as they gathered to celebrate Juneteenth and Black Music Month. As rain pattered on the roof, the crowd at the Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center tapped their feet to music and their forks to plates.
“We brought American music over here,” said Vivian Filer, 85, chief executive officer and chair of the board of the Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center.
Cars packed an overflowing parking lot, and people filled the tables at the sold-out event. The Cotton Club is housed in a restored warehouse turned gallery and event venue. Its mission is to educate people of all ages about Black history.
Celebrants feasted on corn beef, hash, eggs, sausage and fruit. They were entertained by a band that played soul music, including James Brown hits sung by local crooner Charles Washington.
While the national holiday Juneteenth is typically observed on June 19, the museum observes the commemoration of the emancipation of enslaved African Americans throughout the month of June.
Juneteenth is the celebration of the freeing of slaves in the state of Texas in 1865, three years after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862.
Those people were the last to be freed in accordance with the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln. The last of Florida’s enslaved people were freed on May 20 of the same year, a date that Filer has pushed to have more recognition.
Mayor Harvey Ward, who attended the event, said shining a light on east Gainesville hits close to home. Ward said he never lived west of Waldo Road before college.
“East Gainesville matters to me,” Ward said. “It’s important to me that people in east Gainesville feel like they belong to Gainesville.”
Ward said he would celebrate the holiday all weekend long by attending other events in observance of Juneteenth.
Other city officials present included Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker and Alachua County Fire Chief Joseph Dixon.
Stephanie Whittle, 37, is the youth director at Mount Olive A.M.E. Church and attended the event with her family.
“I brought my children out today to understand where we come from and the importance of celebrating Juneteenth,” Whittle said.
Beverly Ramsey drove from Jacksonville to watch the live music and learn the history of the holiday.
“More young people should be in here,” said Ramsey, 67.
Ramsey shared the same passion for educating youth as Evelynn Foxx, who served as a co-master of the ceremony.
Foxx said the need for alternate education of Black history is more important now in the state since Gov. Ron DeSantis blocked courses like advanced placement African American studies.
“It’s left up to us to make sure that we teach our children in our homes and at church and events like this,” Foxx said. Foxx also serves on the board of the Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center and is the president of the Alachua County Branch of the NAACP.
Foxx reminded the crowd of the importance of the live music being performed Friday.
Mr. Lanard Perry and the Gospel to Jazz Band played for nearly two hours straight with the help of Charles Washington on vocals.
Washington did his best to evoke the late James Brown, who had performed on the very stage where other famous Black musicians had also played.
The people congregated at the museum were left with a message and an anecdote from Filer.
She recalled a protest on University Avenue that her late husband asked her not to attend. He told her that he did not want to see her at the protest on the six o’clock news.
“Well, honey, don’t turn on the TV,” Filer responded.