Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Juneteenth events attract wider interest

ST. PETERSBURG — Families will gather today in parks, churches and backyards to commemorate the end of slavery and celebrate freedom.

Previous Juneteenth events have targeted mostly African-Americans, but this year organizers hope a more diverse crowd will show up.

Across the nation, Juneteenth organizers are trying to raise awareness for an observance they say has been pigeonholed for African-Americans. To attract a broader following, they are reaching out to corporate sponsors and political leaders, circulating petitions to make Juneteenth a federal holiday and organizing picnics, fish fries and office parties.

"We want to make Juneteenth a household name," said the Rev. Ronald V. Myers, chairman of the National Juneteenth Holiday Campaign.

Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 that slavery in the United States effectively ended. At the time, more than two years had passed since Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in Confederate states, but the news never reached slaves in Texas, who learned of it only after the Civil War ended.

For years, Texans remembered that day as Juneteenth. Eventually African-American communities across the United States quietly adopted the celebration.

Since 1996, Juneteenth events have more than doubled in Florida, from less than 10 to more than 30.

There are no firm numbers on how many events are held nationally, but organizers say anecdotally that they have received more calls from people interested in starting Juneteenth traditions this year than ever before.

"I got dozens of calls this week alone," said Cliff Robinson, founder of

And since 2000, more than two dozen states have recognized Juneteenth, celebrated on the third Saturday in June, as an official holiday or day of observance. In Florida, Juneteenth Day was recognized as a legal holiday in 1991.

"People are starting to realize that this is more than just an African-American celebration," Robinson said. "When you look at history you realize it took everyone to make things happen as they did, so everyone should celebrate how far we've come."

Locally, organizers say there are more Juneteenth celebrations today than ever before.

Wanda McCawthan has helped organize a Juneteenth celebration at Ridecrest Park in Largo for 13 years. She invites diverse groups such as the YMCA and the Indian Rocks Beach Rotary Club.

"For African-Americans, it's like Independence Day,'' she said. "We have a fish fry in the park and all the families come."

The civic group 100 Black Men of Tampa Bay held a Juneteenth banquet dinner in Tampa on Sunday. A diverse crowd of more than 150 people discussed the history of slavery and African-American accomplishments, including the rise of Barack Obama.

"Every year, we talk about expanding the Juneteenth event," said Keisha Pickett, a spokeswoman for 100 Black Men. "We want everyone to feel welcome."

On Thursday, WMNF-FM featured a lineup of African-Amercan musicians in honor of Juneteenth.

Faye Dowdell has held a Juneteenth celebration at Campbell Park in St. Petersburg since 2007 that features a diverse lineup of performers, including a gospel group and a martial arts presentation.

Despite Juneteenth's growing popularity, some organizers say the holiday will never truly be mainstream until it is recognized nationally.

Myers has collected signatures on behalf of his National Juneteenth Holiday Campaign since 1994.

He has had some successes. In 1997, Congress recognized Juneteenth Independence Day, but both President Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have shied away from making the holiday official.

"Juneteenth is the celebration of America's second independence day," Myers said. "We are not asking for a paid national holiday. All we want is a special day of recognition."

Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or

>>If you go

Celebrate today

• Campbell Park, 601 14th St. S, St. Petersburg, today from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The free event features music, comedy, a career fair, drummaking, head wrapping, community service information, and arts and crafts vendors.

• Ridgecrest Park, 12000 Ulmerton Road, Largo, today from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission, which includes a fish fry lunch, is $6 for adults, $3 for children.

Juneteenth events attract wider interest 06/20/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 24, 2008 11:36am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Review: Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald team up to cool down the Clearwater Jazz Holiday


    A cool breeze swept through Coachman Park Saturday night. Couple of them, actually.

    Kenny Loggins performed at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday on Oct. 21, 2017.
  2. No. 16 USF hangs on at Tulane, off to first 7-0 start


    NEW ORLEANS — After half a season of mismatches, USF found itself in a grudge match Saturday night.

    USF quarterback Quinton Flowers (9) runs for a touchdown against Tulane during the first half of an NCAA college football game in New Orleans, La., Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Derick E. Hingle) LADH103
  3. Lightning buries Penguins (w/video)

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Ryan Callahan spent a lot of time last season rehabilitating his injured hip alongside Steven Stamkos, who was rehabbing a knee after season-ending surgery. During those hours, Callahan noticed two things about Stamkos: his hunger and his excitement to return this season.

    Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek (29) advances the puck through the neutral zone during the first period of Saturday???‚??„?s (10/21/17) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
  4. Spain planning to strip Catalonia of its autonomy


    BARCELONA, Spain — The escalating confrontation over Catalonia's independence drive took its most serious turn Saturday as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain announced he would remove the leadership of the restive region and initiate a process of direct rule by the central government in Madrid.

    Demonstrators in Barcelona protest the decision to take control of Catalonia to derail the independence movement.
  5. Funeral held for soldier at center of political war of words (w/video)


    COOPER CITY — Mourners remembered not only a U.S. soldier whose combat death in Africa led to a political fight between President Donald Trump and a Florida congresswoman but his three comrades who died with him.

    The casket of Sgt. La David T. Johnson of Miami Gardens, who was killed in an ambush in Niger. is wheeled out after a viewing at the Christ The Rock Church, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017  in Cooper City, Fla. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald via AP) FLMIH102