SC Juneteenth banners featuring white couple coming down after backlash

·2 min read
Jared Elrod/provided

The organization responsible for Juneteenth banners featuring two white people apologized to the Greenville community Thursday and announced they were taking them down.

“This error was an attempt at uniting all of Greenville and thereby a slight oversight on one individual’s part that prevented us from fully embracing the rich potential and celebrating the depth of black culture through the message and meaning of Juneteenth,” Rueben Hays, the founder of Juneteenth GVL, said in a statement posted to Facebook.

Juneteenth has been a federal holiday since 2021 and commemorates the freeing of enslaved Black Americans after the Civil War.

Another group staged Juneteenth events in 2021 and 2022, and its members called the banners “whitewashing” the event.

Bruce Wilson, organizer of the Juneteenth event for the past two years at the Peace Center for the Performing Arts, was shut out from using the venue this year in favor of Juneteenth GVL, which held an event last year at Falls Park.

Wilson told The State Wednesday he intends to sue the Peace Center for the Performing Arts for breach of contract if they don’t cancel the Juneteenth GVL event.

On Wednesday, Hays defended the banner, saying it was by design to signify the event is for everyone. The banner is one of 10 designs posted throughout the downtown area, he said. The others show Black, Asian and Hispanic residents.

He did not respond to a message asking if other banners would be removed as well.

Hays said Wednesday the national holiday doesn’t belong to one group, and his group has a vision to broaden the celebration to promote healing in a divided community.

“We did not want to make this exclusively Black,” Hays said. “That is not in the spirit of unity.”

In the Facebook statement posted Thursday afternoon, he said, “We deeply value the voice of our community. Juneteenth GVL has accomplished many commendable achievements and we hope to work to continue to do so with your continued support.”

He apologized for “any disappointment and frustration caused by this oversight” and pledged that any events will fully reflect the “diversity, inclusivity and historical significance of Juneteenth.”

He said the board has worked for eight months to plan various events.

It is planned as a week-long event featuring food, family and wellness events, concerts, seminars and art exhibits, beginning June 17. A gala is planned for the night before at the Greenville Convention Center.