Juneteenth might be contained to one day, but its celebrations certainly aren’t.
In Tampa Bay, events honoring the end of slavery nationwide started early this month and many took place over the weekend. Monday, the actual holiday, still saw its share of fanfare, and we spent time with a few community leaders to see how they were observing the day.
Yvette Lewis, president of the NAACP Hillsborough County branch, got an early start to her day Monday, something the self-proclaimed morning person always does. After getting to the office at 7 a.m., she cleaned a bit then set out for Cyrus Greene Park to do a walkthrough for Tuesday’s Make Good Trouble Bus Tour stop in Tampa.
It would be a work-heavy day for her, but also one rife with reflection. Typing away on her laptop, she said her duties would coincide with listening to the words of activists like Harriet Tubman, Ella Baker and Fannie Lou Hamer.
Juneteenth should be a day of education for everyone, Lewis said. She knows there’s debate over who is allowed to celebrate, and made a point to mention Florida’s own Emancipation Day on May 20, but she believes there is room for all to participate. The NAACP Hillsborough County branch didn’t host any events this year but it partnered with others to commemorate the day, she said.
A lot of energy has been focused on the Make Good Trouble Bus Tour, which is making its way through Florida to raise awareness about the challenges for marginalized communities due to the passage of recent legislation. In the middle of talking about the tour, she was interrupted.
“Oh, God!” she said. “We got hate mail — hate emails.”
This is nothing new for her, but it did stop her train of thought. She shifted gears.
“African American history is American history, whether you want to recognize it or not,” Lewis said.
There are people who don’t want to talk about it for different reasons, she said, as it makes them feel guilty or like a victim. But not her. It’s empowering to know she can endure anything because of those who came before her.
Pastor Alan Harris
The first thing pastor Alan Harris did on Monday was drop off his 12-year-old son at summer camp. The second was give the invocation at a Juneteenth event in West Tampa, where a center focused on African American arts and culture will one day stand.
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He was asked to be part of the event by Hillsborough County Commissioner Gwen Myers, who is leading the effort to create the center. As the pastor of the city’s first Black Baptist church, Beulah Baptist Institutional, Harris agreed. In the invocation, he touched on the center’s future and the sacrifices made by ancestors.
“As we reflect on all they’ve done, may it motivate us and compel us to continue fighting the good fight,” he said.
Like others in the area, his Juneteenth celebration spanned multiple days. On Sunday, he held a “blackout” service, where the congregation wore all black and traditional African clothing. And he planned to join Lewis on Tuesday for the bus tour stop.
With the holiday falling in between busier days, he enjoyed Monday relaxing with his wife and son. Harris said they always try to commemorate the day in some way, whether by visiting historic sites or learning something new. This year, they celebrated with good food and company, with Harris himself at the grill.
Terri Lipsey Scott
Perhaps no one had a busier Juneteenth than Terri Lipsey Scott, executive director of the Woodson African American Museum of Florida in St. Petersburg. Monday was the reveal of the new Black History Matters mural on the street in front of the museum (it formerly said “Black Lives Matter”), and she spent most of the morning making sure everything was set.
By the time she took the podium at the unveiling, she said: “As exhausted as I am today, I must say, I ain’t no way tired.”
That was clear as she enthusiastically clapped for speakers, danced to Beyoncé's “Before I Let Go” and shared her remarks on the holiday, calling it “America’s true Independence Day.” Once it concluded, people pulled her for selfies, hugs and congratulatory conversations. She was the woman of the hour.
It was easy to see her joy and gratitude, matching the spirit of a day she considers jubilant. With the successful reveal of the mural and a new message now on display, Scott jokingly hoped the rest of Monday would take the shape of “a bath and a nap.”
Though, more likely, the day ended with her gathering with family and admiring the piece in its pristine state. Scott wasn’t looking forward to the mural getting “all mucky mucky” when the street in front of the Woodson reopens July 10. She wishes it could be blocked off forever.