What is Juneteenth? The holiday’s history and significance, explained.
Biden just signed legislation to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. Here’s why this once local celebration is significant to U.S. history.
Just the FAQs, USA TODAY
Bianca Russell’s hope and optimism for this country showed through with every stoke of her paint brush on the canvas.
The Lehigh Acres native’s latest piece she worked on at Saturday at Edison Mall’s Juneteenth Celebration event depicted a Black woman as Lady Liberty. The clouds and blue birds circling her head symbolized a dream. The American Dream to be exact.
The scroll in Lady Liberty’s left hand was commemorated with a date of June 19, 1865, the official end to slavery in the Confederate States. For Russell, 30, it was just the beginning in Black Americans’ fight for true equality.
Big day for Juneteenth: Biden signs Juneteenth into a holiday, officially giving federal employees the day off Friday
At a table surrounded by other tables representing several non-profit organizations from around Lee County like the Quality of Life Center, American Legion Post 38 and the Freedom and Virtue Institute, Russell looked around and explained the work is just beginning.
“When you think about the word liberty, I’m not really sure up until now it stood for all,” Russell said. “What we need to think about with that word and this country is that it needs to encompass all. And there’s the word justice. That needs to be taken care of for all as well.”
Edison Mall Marketing Director Angeli Chin said she couldn’t have said it better.
Thus, over the last few months and beyond Lee County’s oldest mall has pledged a partnership with the Fort Myers community to provide resources and education. It started with the Southwest Florida Black Expo that was hosted in April and continued Saturday in celebrating Juneteenth.
“We’re all about engaging the community and building relationships,” Chin, a San Carlos Park resident, said.
Juneteenth has had a long road to becoming a federal holiday
Juneteenth signifies the day when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, were notified of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1865.
President Abraham Lincoln delivered the proclamation freeing all enslaved people in rebelling states in 1862.
However, Confederate troops and slaveholders in states that had seceded failed to adhere to the proclamation until Union forces arrived to liberate the enslaved people. The last of the people reached were in Gavelston.
The day has been long celebrated by Black Americans, but Thursday it became a federal holiday when President Joe Biden, flanked by Kamala Harris, the nation’s first Black vice president, signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Russell said.
Celebrations around Lee County also included the second annual Juneteenth Celebration Community Day in Harlem Tree Park, the African Coalition of Southwest Florida’s Celebrating Freedom at Lakes Park and the Botanical Brewing Company of Cape Coral’s Unify Juneteenth Celebration among others.
The event at Edison Mall was a family event promoting diversity and educating families about Juneteenth through arts and crafts and the reading of books like Steven Otfinoski’s The Story of Juneteenth and Angela Johnson’s All Different Now: Juneteenth the First Day of Freedom.
“Education doesn’t hurt. It helps,” Chin said. “When people are exposed to more they learn more.”
Post 38 Commander, Kevin Boyd, a veteran of the U.S. Navy, read All Different Now aloud. He urged the children listening to “never stop dreaming.”
There is always more to strive for, Boyd said.
“But it’s important to understand what happened” in the past, Boyd said referring to slavery. “It can’t can’t happen again. We need to learn as much as we can and start changing because our democracy is in such a fragile state. It can easily break.”
On that path, Blanca Contreras and Ivan Terrero, who represented the Freedom and Virtue Institute, explained stopping the chain of poverty by focusing on self-reliance and financial literacy for all should be high on this community’s priority list.
“We’re teaching kids that they have the ability to achieve,” Terrero said.
The Juneteenth Celebration ended the afternoon with a dance party and a message emphasizing hope just as Russell’s painting did.
“I have hope that this will happen,” Russell said of equalit. “The worst thing we can do is abandon hope.”