St. Pete celebrates Juneteenth

BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — The Midtown Celebrity Club, Inc. hosted a list of activities around town to celebrate Juneteenth, also called Freedom Day.

The Midtown Celebrity Club is a local grassroots organization with the goal of promoting and enhancing academic and cultural opportunities for inner-city youths. Through parent engagement, supporting academic excellence and incorporating performing arts, the club hopes to make a difference, not only on the south side of town but throughout Pinellas County.

Starting June 2, founder Paulette Jones organized a community revitalization collaboration with the Parks and Recreation Department of the City of St. Petersburg. Along with the youth in the club and city employees, neighborhood residents pitched in and planted flowers and shrubs to beautify Playlot #3, located on 17th Avenue and 17th Street South.

Saturday, June 16, Midtown Celebrity Club held its traditional Juneteenth flag raising ceremony at Enoch Davis Center. Jones thanked eventgoers for coming out to commemorate “one of the most important days in African-American history.”

Kyandra Darling El-Amin, a legislative aide from City Council Chair Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, presented Jones with a proclamation signed by Mayor Rick Kriseman, and a proclamation from the Pinellas County Commission was also presented.

A proclamation from the State of Florida is expected to be presented by Florida House Representative Wengay Newton in a few days.

A dramatic performance given by Harriet Tubman impersonator Betty Hayes wowed the crowd. Singing, reflections on black history and even ventriloquist and magician Dave C. was on hand.

Pinellas County Urban League President and CEO Watson Haynes hailed the event as a vehicle for galvanizing the community to realize and utilize its full potential.

In a first, the club hosted a Juneteenth Literacy Fest at the James Weldon Johnson Library on June 19. The library furnished books on black history, and the children in attendance were inducted into the Midtown Celebrity Club Reading Ninjas. Member of the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority also joined in on the fun.

So why is Juneteenth such an important holiday for African Americans? First, Juneteenth commemorates the June 19, 1865, announcement of the abolition of slavery in the state of Texas. Its name is a blend of the words “June” and “nineteenth,” the date of its celebration.

In 1865 as the Civil War came to an end, there were a number of black people still in slavery in less populated areas. In Texas, the word did not get out until Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and issued an order officially freeing them.

As the war raged on, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, with an effective date of January 1, 1863. It declared that all enslaved persons in the Confederate States of America in rebellion and not in Union hands were to be freed. Texas didn’t get the memo.

Juneteenth, in some ways, epitomizes how freedom and justice in this country have always been delayed for black people. The 13th amendment abolished slavery, but a caveat was thrown in that said slavery was permissible as punishment for a crime. So even though slavery was abolished, it created the prison pipeline system for African Americans, which is essentially another form of slavery.

Coupled with the 19th and 20th centuries lynchings and Jim Crow laws, and today’s racial profiling and police brutality, it sometimes feels reductive to celebrate anything in this country considering all of the barriers in place to impede black progress.

Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, said that in order to move beyond the legacy of slavery and the trauma that it placed upon us, we must acknowledge that this country was built on the backs of the enslaved, generating wealth for white Americans.

He also posits that the narrative used to justify slavery is still connected to the narrative that is used to oppress African Americans. Unless America acknowledges all of this, he argues, black people will continue to face the consequences of this legacy.

Through celebrating the Juneteenth holiday and things such as the recently opened National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Ala., we can address the issues of the past that binds us to slavery in the present.

For more information about Midtown Celebrity Club events, call Paulette Jones at (727) 565-6094.

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