ST. PETERSBURG — A candlelight vigil in observance of "Freedom Day" is set for 8 p.m. Thursday at Spa Beach to kick off festivities that some consider a signature event for the city.
The vigil officially marks the celebration of Juneteenth, which the city has co-sponsored for 16 years.
Hosted by Juneteenth of St. Petersburg Inc., a nonprofit organization that formed in September 2006 for the sole purpose of coordinating the activities, the group has been led by Faye Dowdell since last year.
On Saturday, the Juneteenth Family Festival will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Campbell Park at 601 14th St. S.
"There really was no freedom until Juneteenth, said Dowdell, who invites all residents to come out to Saturday's daylong celebration. Adding that, historically, there were still slaves during the first Independence Day in 1776.
"This is part of history. This is when everyone became free. Your best is freedom. It is hard to know your future until you appreciate from where you've come," she said.
On Sept. 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. It took almost three years for word to reach the founders of Juneteenth.
According to Dowdell, Juneteenth celebrates the day, June 19, 1865, that Union Gen. Gordon Granger notified slaves in Galveston, Texas, that they were free. The newly freed men and women were ecstatic. Hence, the tradition of having big celebrations.
Dowdell, a former teacher, notes that Juneteenth's celebration isn't limited to Galveston.
It is also celebrated internationally. In fact, Dowdell celebrated her first Juneteenth in Germany (where she was stationed while serving in the Air Force).
Saturday's festivities will include a gospel program, a pampering and wellness pavilion, health screenings, carnival games and live entertainment.
The Juneteenth Family Festival will include many activities for all ages, including a class on the history of making head wraps.
One highlight at the children's pavilion will be an opportunity to make drums.