For nearly 100 years, Black communities throughout the country celebrated Juneteenth, long before it became an official federal holiday last year. Yet, at the same time, not enough people in any culture understand the significance of June 19.
It’s the traditional date commemorating the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States, also known as Freedom Day or Jubilee Day. Unlike the way news travels today at the push of a button with social media, news of the end of slavery didn’t reach certain areas of the United States for more than two years.
Historians say that Juneteenth (short for June 19) is recognized as either a state holiday or a day of observance in 45 states. When President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, it became the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
But while Juneteenth is not a legal state holiday in Florida, City Council members in Jacksonville voted last year to make Juneteenth a paid holiday in 2022 for city workers. It’s a step in the right direction, and it’s picking up support from some businesses.
Florida Blue is one of those businesses that plans to observe the day of remembrance on Monday, June 20, by giving employees the day off.
“Additionally, Florida Blue has a robust calendar supporting Juneteenth events throughout the state through sponsorships of cultural events and participation in relevant activities,” said Aleizha Batson, a spokesman for the company. “We look forward to showing outward support for this important holiday throughout the month.”
How Juneteenth came to symbolize the end of Black enslavement
President Abraham Lincoln first issued the Emancipation Proclamation declaring all slaves free in Confederate territory on Sept. 22, 1862, but the news took time to travel. It wasn’t until June 19, 1865, when word of the proclamation reached African Americans in Texas. That’s why, in 1980, Texas became the first state to name Juneteenth an official state holiday.
Florida has yet to be added to the list of supporters. Black state lawmakers and advocates in the 2021 legislative session failed to gain traction on legislation. Current state law designates June 19 of each year as a day of observance instead of a holiday.
No doubt, June 19 is an important date of observance. However, in Florida, the date of May 20, 1865, might hold more significance. A month before Union Gen. Gordon Granger made it to Galveston to deliver the news, another federal authority — Union Brigadier Gen. Edward M. McCook — stopped in Tallahassee to make a similar announcement. It’s the reason the NAACP’s Tallahassee branch last year called on the Florida Legislature to officially recognize May 20 as Emancipation Day.
Tallahassee NAACP managers said the state’s recognition “while denoting a significant part of history, does not comprehensively and accurately represent Florida’s historical emancipation record.”
How can I celebrate Juneteenth in 2022?
Several organizations throughout Jacksonville are holding celebrations this weekend. The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Foundation is hosting a three-day event that starts Saturday. Now in its 10th year, scheduled activities include the second Miss Juneteenth Scholarship Pageant; The Freedom Walk Parade; Juneteenth at the Ritz, the Juneteenth BBQ Cookoff; and Juneteenth Jazz at the Park.
Even though the observation of Juneteenth stretches back to 1865, the holiday didn’t gain significant national attention until 2020, after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks and others sparked Black Lives Matter protests.
Dawn Curling, co-founder of Melanin Market with state representative Angie Nixon, is excited about her sixth annual Juneteenth Melanin Market. It’s the 22nd market event that Curling has hosted.
She’s a testament to the recent upsurge in Juneteenth interest. While the first Juneteenth market was not well attended, nearly 300 small business vendors signed up to participate in today’s event. She attributes it to both a growing knowledge about Juneteenth, as well as local and national attention to the Black Lives Matter movement.
“We just wanted to create what ‘Black Wall Street’ created. It’s important for us to celebrate our blackness and our history,” she said.
“Black Wall Street” in Tulsa, Okla., was once one of the most prosperous African-American communities in the nation. But in 1921, two days of unprecedented racial violence took place. Thirty-five city blocks went up in flames, 300 people died and 800 were injured.
Curling decided to hold the event on Jacksonville’s Eastside on A. Philip Randolph Boulevard, because years ago, Black-owned businesses (including her family members) were vibrant in that area. She’s hoping to encourage more Black entrepreneurs to consider locating in that area again.
“This year we have about 280 vendors,” Curling said. “It’s amazing to see almost 300 Black businesses in one area. Just imagine if they were brick and mortar businesses on A. Phillip Randolph. That would be amazing.”
Marcia Pledger is the Opinion and Engagement Editor for the Florida Times-Union. She can be reached at email@example.com.