New to Juneteenth? Here's what it is and how to celebrate in the Pensacola area

·7 min read

From a community "family reunion," to a DJ battle, to a historic tour, there will be many ways for people in the Pensacola area to recognize Juneteenth this month.

But regardless of how they do it, the important thing is more and more people are honoring the holiday and taking time to recognize its significance.

Juneteenth observes and memorializes June 19, 1865, when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, the last state with institutional slavery, and announced that the more than 250,000 enslaved Black people in the state were free.

Although many Black Americans have been celebrating the date since, Juneteenth didn't become a federally recognized holiday until June 17, 2021, when President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act.

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Pensacola City Councilwoman Teniadé Broughton worked with a variety of community leaders and businesses to organize "Journey to Juneteenth," multiple events across early June intended to bring together the community and commemorate Juneteenth.

Here's a look at what's happening:

A Family Reunion for the Culture

  • When: Noon to 6 p.m. Saturday, June 18

  • Where: Museum Plaza, 120 Church St.

The Watson Family Foundation will be holding its first Juneteenth "A Family Reunion for the Culture" celebration event. The free, family-friendly event is the culmination of the "Journey to Juneteenth" celebrations happening in Pensacola for the next few weeks.

The Watson Family Foundation is a nonprofit founded by Aaron and Kimberly Watson and launched by the family to show its gratitude to the community after Aaron successfully opened his law firm in 2016. Its focus is to support the community and families suffering from food and financial insecurity, providing school supplies like backpacks, laptops to families and hardship relief.

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When the Watson Family Foundation members was thinking about what they wanted a Juneteenth event to look like, they immediately thought of a family reunion.

"After the slaves were emancipated, one of the first things they did was to make an effort to reconnect with their family," said Alicia Waters, client experience manager for the Watson Firm. "It is such an exciting time and I do believe that it's going to be an amazing experience for families. In addition to being entertained, I think it's a good educational opportunity as well, because Juneteenth is history. And this event is just not open to people of color, it's for everybody."

The event will have food trucks and 15 vendors selling art, clothes, candles and jewelry. There will be a kids zone with an obstacle course and face painting. There will be line dancing, gospel choirs, spades and dominoes tables and guests such as the Pensacola Lamplighters and others.

The Watson Family Foundation, founded by Aaron Watson, left, and his wife, Kimberly Watson, supports the community and families suffering from issues such as food insecurity.
The Watson Family Foundation, founded by Aaron Watson, left, and his wife, Kimberly Watson, supports the community and families suffering from issues such as food insecurity.

The foundation will also give away a $1,500 scholarship to a University of West Florida minority student.

Waters hopes the community is able recognize Juneteenth and walk out knowing more than they knew before.

"I think that this event highlights education and achievement. It is a time to reflect and rejoice," Waters said. "It gives us an opportunity to pause and assess how far we've come where we are, and also prepare for where we're going."

For more information on vendor fees, sponsorship opportunities and donations go to watsonfamilyfoundation.com.

R&B and Blues Lawn Party

  • When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, June 18

  • Where: Downtown Pensacola, 205 E. Zaragoza St. Behind the Tivoli High House and South Market

This is the first year for the R&B and Blues Lawn Party in downtown Pensacola, which is free and open to the public. It is an event to celebrate Black excellence and unity and to bring people from all walks of life together.

Gregory Thornhill Jr. created the Lawn Party for people to acknowledge Black history and the accomplishments of Black people.

Lawn Party is a live music event with food, arts &crafts, and to celebrate Black excellence for Journey to Juneteenth.
Lawn Party is a live music event with food, arts &crafts, and to celebrate Black excellence for Journey to Juneteenth.

"Knowing the struggle that we had to go through to get to where we are, it's very important to know history or all history, especially Black history, because there was a struggle, there was a bridge that we have come over and I'm grateful for that," Thornhill said. "A lot of people like to say that we haven't gone anywhere, but we have, we have definitely come a mighty long way. There is still a way to go, but we have come a very long way and we come this far by faith."

There will be music from Pensacola native and BET's "Sunday Best " contestant Keyla Richardson, arts and crafts from vendors such as from Carter J. Studios and various food vendors.

Almost Vegan's "Gullah Geechee Feast"

  • When: 5 to 11 p.m. Friday, June 10

  • Where: 532 W. Garden St.

The 80% vegan and 20% non-vegan restaurant and venue area, Almost Vegan, will be holding a Gullah Geechee Feast on June 10. The Gullah Geechee are descendants of West and Central Africans who were some of the first Africans enslaved in the low country or lower Atlantic states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and Georgia to work on the coastal rice, indigo and cotton plantations.

Almost Vegan owner Thomas Coleman talks Jan. 28, 2021, about the Pensacola restaurant.
Almost Vegan owner Thomas Coleman talks Jan. 28, 2021, about the Pensacola restaurant.

Almost Vegan will be doing a Gullah Geechee inspired menu with red rice, crab rice, shrimp and grits, low country boil, crab pie and other cuisines.

Thomas Coleman, owner of Almost Vegan and a descendant of the Gullah Geechee, said he sees Juneteenth to celebrate the culture and history he has been raised to know and share it with others.

"This is just passing down information and knowledge to the younger people, so that we don't forget our history. We don't forget what our ancestors went through," Coleman said. "It's easy to forget but as Black people, we need to remember this stuff. We need to remember this because if you don't know where you are from, you can't know where you're going. ... I'm a Geechee and I'm proud to say that."

To find more information or RSVP for the Gullah Geechee Feast, visit their Facebook page.

Tour of Century

  • When: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, June 11

  • Where: Start at Carver Community Center, 7040 Jefferson Ave., Century

This will be a tour to highlight the history of African Americans in Northwest Florida and show their importance in Century's history.

The tour will be conducted by Marilyn Robinson, director of the Carver Community Center. The tour will stop at 144-year-old Pilgrim Lodge Baptist Church and Jerry Fisher, president of the Alger-Sullivan Historical Society, will present the history of Century and how important the mill business was in the development of the town.

Jewel Cannada-Wynn, a former longtime member of the Pensacola City Council who is running for Pensacola mayor, helped organize the tour of Century. She said she hopes to show the great heritage and community that is in a small town like Century.

"I would like for people to see Century as a positive gateway to expand the county and Northwest Florida. It has some excellent characteristics as a small town," Cannada-Wynn said. "It can be an efficient community that has a lot of environmental resources in that regard. And so we want them to see Century as maybe a place to live so that Century will grow and prosper."

The tour will start at 11 a.m. at Carver Community Center. There will be a bus at Pensacola City Hall that will leave for Century at 10:15 a.m. for those who do not want to drive to Century.

For more information and to RSVP for a spot call, Cannada-Wynn at 850-346-7264.

Beats and Eats

  • When: Noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, June 11

  • Where: Community Maritime Park, 301 W. Main St.

Beats and Eats will have a DJ Battle, food trucks, vendors and more to bring together the community and find unity for a great time.
Beats and Eats will have a DJ Battle, food trucks, vendors and more to bring together the community and find unity for a great time.

Beats and Eats is a free event with a DJ battle, food trucks and vendors, all to bring unity to the community and have a fun time. The DJ battle will have those from the older and younger generations performing to create an intergenerational vibe where everyone is included.

Hale "DJ Hale" Morrissette is the organizer for the event and is hoping to bring together people and show unity during Juneteenth.

"We realized everybody wasn't free and in some ways we still aren't very free of what the conditions were," Morrissette said. "But that is really the significance of us being able to do a Juneteenth event. It's to be able to show that we can have celebrations, that we can show unity in our community, and how we build up and pour back into each other."

For more information, email hale@lifeishale.com or call 850-972-8993.

This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Journey to Juneteenth is here to celebrate the new federal holiday