Gainesville kicks off 2nd annual 'Journey to Juneteenth' celebration on Emancipation Day

·3 min read

Gainesville officials began a month-long celebration Friday outside City Hall with a flag raising ceremony in recognition Emancipation Day in the Sunshine State.

The monumental day in history came in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers delivered news to Black Americans that the Civil War was over. Slave were finally free — nearly two years after Abraham Lincoln signed the historic Emancipation Proclamation. Regarded nationally now as Juneteenth, cities around the country commemorate this day of emancipation.

Gainesville is no exception.

“I’m glad that … we’re able to be together to celebrate something so beautiful and so important,” said City Commissioner Reina Saco. “Today, we are launching a month-long series of events beginning with today’s official commemoration of Florida’s Emancipation Day, May 20, 1865.”

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While slaves in Texas didn’t learn of their freedom until June, those in Florida received the news a month earlier.

“It was on this day in 1865, more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that Union troops finally reached the Knott House in Tallahassee, Florida, declaring formerly enslaved Africans as free,” Saco said.

“Despite change in law, despite change in some people, despite change in some society, we have a long road ahead and that’s why we call it ‘Journey to Juneteenth,’ because we are still journeying. We are still walking a very long road.”

Juneteenth established as federal holiday on June 17, 2021

For years, activists and U.S. legislators worked to establish Juneteenth as a federal holiday. Their efforts paid off last year when on June 17, 2021, President Biden signed a bill making Juneteenth the 11th American federal holiday.

“This is a very very special day,” said Cynthia Curry, Gainesville’s interim City Manager. “I get emotional about it because my family has a history of actually being emotional around the history of Black people in this country.

“We do need to ponder inside of our hearts and our souls and wonder how we can collectively make this a better country, make this a better world, and how we as individuals contribute to that.”

Toward the close of Friday’s ceremony, Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker offered vividly passionate remarks about her connection with slavery.

“I’m a product of those who survived the middle passage,” she said. “I am product of those that not only survived the middle passage but that was dropped off in Camden, South Carolina, traveled down to Gainesville, Florida and end up at Haile Plantation. Yes, I’m a product of those that were enslaved right here locally at Haile Plantation.

“As I journeyed to this place today, I could not help but wipe away the tears. As I travelled across land and property that no doubt had been walked upon by my ancestors and forefathers, who fought, who struggled, who died enslaved here in Gainesville.”

This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: Gainesville celebrates Emancipation Day with flag-raising ceremony