Celebrating Juneteenth, the day slavery was ended in the United States
“June 19th is a commemoration of freedom for African-Americans throughout America,” explained Lee County NAACP President James Muwakkil.
June 19, 1865 — Juneteenth. Two and a half years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, and finally, the slaves were free.
“The Emancipation Proclamation was greatly ignored by the southern government officials and also by slaveowners,” Muwakkil said.
News that the confederacy surrended in April 1865 did not spread quickly.
“Texas was one of the last places to know that slaves were free,” Muwakkil said. Galveston, Texas to be exact. But even with their freedom, slaves did not just pick up and go.
“Fear for their life, also for economic reasons, they didn’t know where to go, they didn’t have any money, they didn’t have provisions and everything they had in the world actually belonged to the slave plantation owner,” Muwakkil said.
What happened on this day 155 years ago is long celebrated by black communities but is not widely taught in schools. But in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the renewed push of the Black Lives Matter movement, Juneteenth is top of mind in the country.
Two Florida Gulf Coast University professors say they want people to celebrate and educate.
“Us moving forward and the momentum we have now in today’s times that it’s something we can’t just allow to fall to the back but keep in the foreground and something that we celebrate as American history,” said Dr. Christopher Blakely, The Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Multicultural Leadership Development.
“We are still experiencing some of those things that are happening in the past so although we have come along way, there’s still a lot more that we have to do,” said Travel Oakes, Coordinator of Leadership Development.
“It marked a time of celebration of liberation for those enslaved Africans and for the black community and it’s an opportunity to look back at our history and really celebrate,” Blakely said.
On Friday several banks like Fifth-Third, Chase and PNC are closing early, and those are just some of the businesses making big changes to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday.
A Republican lawmaker is also pushing to make this a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in America.
Target is one of many companies recognizing Juneteenth as a national holiday and on Friday they will be paying their employees time and a half.
Workers also have the option to take the day off with full pay.
Just a few months ago Florida Senator Jason Pizzo pushed for legislation to make this a national holiday, but it didn’t pass.
The senator tells us he is hopeful this day will get the recognition it deserves.
“More attention has be paid… we still have vestiges and discrimination that exist obviously this is why everyone is so passionate right now,” Pizzo said.
FGCU will be hosting a virtual event today to celebrate Juneteenth. They will have a panel and other educational activities. You can register and find more information about the Juneteenth observance here.