ST. PETERSBURG – Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger led thousands of federal troops to Galveston, Texas, to announce that the Civil War had ended and slaves had been freed.
Although the Emancipation Proclamation was signed two and a half years earlier by President Abraham Lincoln freeing slaves in the Confederate states, isolated parts of the country that did not have Union soldiers to enforce the Executive Order were left in the dark. With General Lee’s surrender and the arrival of Granger’s troops, the last remaining slaves were freed.
Juneteenth celebrations focus on freedom, equality and unity worldwide, and while it has obtained a Day of Observance status in the state of Florida, the push continues to enact legislation to make it a legal holiday in all 50 states and at the federal level.
While there were several celebrations in the Tampa Bay area this year, Midtown Celebrity Club, a local 501(c)(3) charity, took over the reins with several different events here in St. Pete. Starting June 3 at the Enoch Davis Center, Midtown Celebrity Club’s founder and President Paulette Jones acted as mistress of ceremony over the event that raised the Juneteenth flag next to the American flag.
The flag raising ceremony attended by members of the community and political figures saw U.S. Representative Charlie Crist as the keynote speaker.
Crist spoke of the utilization of voting to enforce civil rights and the need to get out the vote. He also emphasized the historical significance of the Juneteenth holiday and the continued fight for freedom and equality in the United States.
Florida State Representative Wengay Newton gave a moving and memorable tribute to the Juneteenth holiday. He spoke of the sacrifices of previous generations and the accomplishments of African Americans.
The program continued with several more speeches and the presentation of awards to Lyn Johnson of The Weekly Challenger and Jeanie Blue, a former Juneteenth events director. The Midtown Angels of the Celebrity Club provided entertainment, with dancing choreographed by Debbie Tumbling. The afternoon ended with an international service project preparing donations to be sent to the less fortunate in Africa.
On June 15, Midtown Celebrity Club hosted “Juneteenth in the Park,” where Playlot No. 3, located at the corner of 17th Avenue and 17th Street South, received a landscaping makeover. The City of St. Petersburg Parks and Recreation Department graciously provided and planted beautiful flowers and cypress mulch.
To round out the events of the day, a barbeque was provided for the surrounding residents.
This year’s celebration ended with the “Juneteenth Literacy Expo” on June 19 at the James Weldon Johnson Library. Volunteers read books about slavery and the challenges that African Americans have endured to the children in the Midtown area.
Rep. Newton and President & CEO of the Pinellas County Urban League Watson Haynes both shared their experiences and the importance of education. After reading, everyone enjoyed refreshments donated by Sam’s Club, and gift cards were passed out to the children from the McDonald’s on Fourth Street South.
Midtown Celebrity Club thanks the community for their attendance and hope to continue its Juneteenth events for years to come.