Juneteenth marks the day when enslaved people in Texas finally received word from the U.S. government that they were free–a full two years after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. As federal troops arrived in Galveston, U.S. Gen. Gordon Granger read General Orders No. 3: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
With this short, but powerful statement, 250,000 enslaved people were officially freed from Texas soil in the spring of 1865. While the event marked the end of slavery in America, it also signified how long slavery had continued in areas void of Union control during the Civil War. Because of this, many enslavers from outside the Lone Star State had moved there with the idea that it was a safe haven to resume their enslavement and poor treatment of African-Americans.
Of course, this second proclamation did not automatically free every enslaved individual, either, as slave owners withheld the information until after harvest season—putting the official release of enslaved people in Texas in late November of 1865. That December, slavery was formally abolished with the addition of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
With their newfound freedom, African Americans in Texas organized an annual celebration called “Jubilee Day” in 1866 to commemorate the monumental event. As Black people migrated to different parts of the country, the tradition continued to spread. In 1979, Texas became the first state to mark Juneteenth as an official holiday.
Last year, 155 years after the proclamation was made in Galveston, Congress passed a resolution establishing Juneteenth as a national holiday. President Biden signed it into law on June 17, 2021.
As Sarasota celebrates Juneteenth’s second year as a federal holiday, Newtown Alive’s community director, Walter Gilbert, says that the holiday is about recognition Black people never really got.
“At no time [until now] was there official recognition after the Civil War that Black people were free, of what happened in Texas, or creating an honorary day for those who were freed last," he explains.
As an NAACP branch organization, Newtown Alive specializes in a range of projects and initiatives dedicated to preserving Black history, advocating for voter registration, providing equal opportunity school programs and promoting equality in and around the community. One of its major upcoming projects is the Museum of African American History and Culture in Sarasota.
“We are an organization that tries to communicate who Black people are and how they fit into the makeup of Sarasota County, including economically, socially and historically,” Gilbert says.
How does Gilbert suggest celebrating Junteenth?
“Learn your history and reflect on where we’ve come from,” he says. “We are having festivals in Newtown, so come join and recognize that this actually took place and happened.” Celebrations are also slated to take place at the 13th Avenue Dream Center in Bradenton.
And while the nation has come a long way since 1865, there is still lots of work to do. Juneteenth reminds us that there is still a struggle to be seen and treated equally as a Black person in our country.
When it came to Sarasota specifically, Gilbert underlines a few issues for the city to work on.
“The city has come a long way in preserving history and providing opportunities for children and African-American voters,” he says. “But for some reason, it has not become as inclusive or diverse with its government or big employers around town. The more we make sure everyone is included, the better our nation will become."
How to Celebrate Juneteenth in Sarasota
13th Avenue Dream Center, 922 24th St. E, Bradenton
This free event will feature the Beatdown Band of Tampa, live entertainment, games, crafts, free health screenings, face painting, a photo booth, a sweet potato pie-eating contest and many other multicultural foods. Sat., June 18, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Bradenton Area Convention Center, 1 Haben Blvd., Palmetto
Check out African dancers and drummers, African fashions, soul food catered by some of the Bay area's finest caterers and a live music lineup including Jordan Prince Bolds on saxophone, Dundu Dole Urban African Ballet and more. Friday, June 17, 7 to 10 p.m.
Tickets: $35 or $275 for a table of eight.
The Foodmine, 1160 Whitfield Ave., Sarasota
Enjoy a price-fixed, three-course meal with live R & B music by Cee Saffo and The Culture and a DJ. Fri. June 17, 6:30 to 11 p.m. Tickets: $75
Selby Auditorium, USF Sarasota-Manatee campus, 8350 N Tamiami Trail, Sarasota
Take in lessons on African percussive and tap dance, and follow the beat thanks to Maurice Chestnut, a Tony-Award-winning dancer; Quynn Johnson, a world-renown percussive dance artist; and Alfred Bruce Bradley, CEO of Tapology. Celebrate Juneteenth with dance, history and a celebration of freedom, Friday, June 17 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Sarasota
Join the Newtown community for this free, outdoor celebration along the main drag, with vendors, food and music. Sat. June 18, from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. The Multicultural Health Institute will provide free health screenings too. —Dariela Delgado