ST. PETERSBURG — More than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, Union soldiers landed at Galveston, Texas, with news that the Civil War had ended and slaves were free.
That day, June 19, 1865, is now commemorated annually by African-Americans across the country. It's known as Juneteenth or Freedom Day. The Tampa Bay area will observe it with events including the cleanup of a historic black cemetery in Pasco County on Tuesday and festivals in Plant City, Brooksville and Port Richey today. In St. Petersburg, though, a community celebration held since 1992 in a city park has been called off.
"I was devastated, and I was really heartbroken about it," said Faye Dowdell, who organized the event in recent years before putting it in the hands of another resident last fall.
"It's a really beloved event, and people are going to miss it," said Elizabeth Brincklow, arts and international relations manager for the city of St. Petersburg. The city provided $8,453 for the event last year, and a little over $3,000 was promised for this June.
Dowdell took over as organizer in 2007, after Jeanie Blue, the woman who launched the celebration, became discouraged and gave it up after 14 years. Blue said at the time that running the event had become stressful and financially burdensome. Dowdell encountered similar problems and last fall turned it over to a man called Alex Burns. Then, she said, "I heard from him he put it in a forced hiatus."
Michael Jefferis, superintendent of St. Petersburg's parks and recreation department, said employees have tried to contact Burns for six months. The Tampa Bay Times has also been unable to reach Burns.
"From the city's perspective, our concern was that we didn't receive an application for co-sponsorship," Jefferis said. "It's certainly unfortunate. It's always been a great event, always a meaningful event."
Dowdell will be involved in a smaller event this year. She has been invited to share the Juneteenth story Tuesday at the West St. Petersburg Community Library at St. Petersburg College.
In Plant City, the annual celebration will go on as usual. It will include entertainment, food and fishing, said Sharon Moody, president of Plant City Black Heritage, who organized the first Juneteenth event several years ago.
Moody said her group advertises the celebration at schools, churches, the housing authority and even door to door. "It's a nice crowd," she said. "We're looking for a better crowd this year."
Paul Boston began Brooksville's Juneteenth observance with a rally on the courthouse steps in 2004. These days the area celebrates at the Frederick Kelly Elks Lodge.
"What we try to do is inform the community about the history of slavery, educate our children about that message and explore the negativity of modern slavery, low-paying jobs, renting instead of owning your own house, inadequate education," he said.
The Black Caucus of Pasco County will continue its tradition of cleaning up historic Mount Carmel Cemetery.
The African American Club of Pasco has organized a more traditional Juneteenth celebration. The festival at the former Booker T. Washington School in Port Richey will include a garage sale, health screening and guest speaker Evangeline Moore, daughter of pioneer civil rights leaders Harry T. Moore and his wife, Harriette, who were killed when a bomb exploded in their home in Mims on Christmas 1951.
About 200 to 300 people attended the event last year, Dan Callaghan said. "It has grown each year, and it's really a lot of fun."
Juneteenth began in Texas, where it has been celebrated as a state holiday on June 19 since 1980.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.