Juneteenth Celebrates 'The Steps We Have Taken So Far'
Juneteenth is a holiday that celebrates the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States and is a monumental and significant holiday in African American history. Celebrated each year on June 19, Juneteenth is also known as Freedom Day, Liberation Day, and Emancipation day. Local communities including Pensacola, Fort Walton Beach, and Niceville are all participating in the celebration.
On June 19, 1865, in Galveston Bay, Texas, enslaved African Americans were finally notified by Union troops that they were now free across the state of Texas. Although President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had outlawed slavery in Texas nearly two and a half years earlier, some states, like Texas, fell behind the times of change.
Texas was relatively remote and the Union troops entrusted with announcement and enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation proved to be inconsistent and slow-moving. This means that the enslaved people of Galveston, Texas, didn’t learn of their freedom until June 19, 1863, now known as Juneteenth.
Celebrations of Juneteenth date back to 1866 and have historically involved church-centered community gatherings as well as family barbeques and events. Today, Juneteenth is celebrated with parades across many U.S. cities, in addition to galas and shows honoring African American art and history, as well as with numerous other public events such as picnics, marches, and concerts. These events often include music and public readings of African-American literature and of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Pensacola’s District 5 Councilwoman Teniadé Broughton says the holiday has been long-celebrated in Northwest Florida.
“Pensacola residents have been celebrating emancipation since Reconstruction. Particularly on January 1, where a lot of the churches would hold watch-night services, and on May 20. Of course, that was when we (Florida) got word that enslaved people were free.”
As the country discusses and debates how Black history is taught and what Black history is taught in public schools, Broughton says Juneteenth isn’t a new concept for Black Americans.
“I’ve been celebrating emancipation day all of my life because I grew up in Pensacola and my church always observed it. We also had community events to honor and observe the day, which was always cookouts and programs at church. For Pensacola’s Black community Juneteenth isn’t new.”
Juneteenth gives the nation an opportunity to reflect on freedom and all that it represents.
For Broughton, freedom entails acknowledging progress in order to inspire further change.
“It means we get to celebrate our citizenship, which is something hard fought and won. Standing in a place where we can look back on the past and see how far we have come, while knowing we still have a long way to go. We can celebrate the steps we have taken so far.”
In Pensacola, Juneteenth is being celebrated through the Juneteenth Gala: A Celebration of Black Success at the Pensacola Improv Center at 7:30 p.m.. The Gala will honor Black entrepreneurs and the Black community through an exploration of influential music, hosted by DJ Neutron and DJ Hale. Tickets and more information on the Juneteenth Gala: A Celebration of Black Success are available here.
Pensacola residents are also celebrating Juneteenth through For Da Culture: a Juneteenth Celebration Brunch from 12-2 p.m. at the SCI Community Building. The Juneteenth Celebration Brunch presented by The Brunch Effect will feature food, drink, music, and hookah as well as hosting by DJ Plae. Tickets and more information is available here.
Ronald Hixon, project manager for the Brunch Effect, explained the inspiration behind the event.
“We wanted to create a Juneteenth event that the whole community can get behind and enjoy ... This is an opportunity for us to share, a lot of people are finding out about Juneteenth only now, and this is our opportunity to educate the community. If you aren’t aware, just ask the question: what is Juneteenth?”
In Fort Walton Beach, Juneteenth is being celebrated with Juneteenth Jazz with world-renowned pianist Gino Rosaria at 7 p.m. Information is available here.
Rosaria, raised in Curaçao, grew up with similar celebrations of emancipation and hopes to bring his vision of freedom into his Juneteenth show.
“Freedom is being able to get up in the morning and pursue your dreams, goals, and religious desires without having to worry about being persecuted. In this country, anybody can become whatever they want if they work hard at it. It doesn’t matter your background, it's all about what you want to do going forward. Freedom has given us the ability to do that.”
In Niceville, Juneteenth is being celebrated at Lincoln Park with a community picnic from 4-6 p.m. The Freedom Day Picnic will feature bounce houses, shaved ice, drinks, and BBQ. More information on the Juneteenth Community Picnic, which is open to the public, is available here.