Friday marks the 155th anniversary of the day slavery officially ended in America.
As protests continue across the country and around Tampa Bay, momentum is pushing some people to finally learn this chapter of American history.
Slavery wasn’t instantly wiped away after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Only slaves in rebellious states were freed, and news didn’t travel to every part of the country until two and a half years later.
After the Civil War ended in April 1865, the 13th amendment formally ended slavery in all states. It was up to Union soldiers to spread the news. Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union General Gordon Granger traveled to Galveston, Texas, to tell the people there that the war was over. About 250,000 slaves in Texas learned they were free.
Texas was the first of 45 states to make Juneteenth a state holiday. Though it still isn’t a national holiday, Juneteenth is celebrated around America with pageants, picnics and festivals. Flag raising ceremonies are held in cities around the world on June 1 to kick off celebrations leading up to June 19.
But many people don’t know the significance of the day.
“I wasn’t taught it at school, I wasn’t taught it at home,” said Jessie Quinn, secretary of the Tampa Bay Juneteenth Coalition.
“If you look at your ancestors, they were kept captive way back when and you were taught a lie.”
For three years, the Tampa Bay Juneteenth Coalition has hosted celebrations throughout the month of June to mark the day and educate people on its history. But the coronavirus pandemic has changed things.
This year, the group’s Juneteenth pageant will be streamed over Facebook Live. The community awards banquet and street fest have been postponed.
A socially distanced Juneteenth picnic is still on from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at Kings Forest Park in Tampa. There will be over 30 vendors, food booths, a bounce house and a raffle. There will also be voter registration and education on Juneteenth history.
“The major pandemic is the lack of education," said Pastor P. Tucker Johnson, president of the Tampa Bay Juneteenth Coalition.
“As far as I’m concerned, Juneteenth is part of the movement that is going on today.”
In Pinellas, protest organizers are hosting a Juneteenth celebration on from 2 to 7 p.m. on Friday at Williams Park that will lead into an evening march.
Jake Geffon, 19, and Spencer Cook, 44, are organizing the event with about 30 volunteers. There will be speeches, live music and food from black-owned restaurants including Chief’s Creole Cafe and Atwaters Best BBQ & Soul Food.
Gesson said volunteers will pass out educational fliers at the event. As the celebration winds down, protesters from St. Pete, Gulfport, Tampa and Riverview will march from St. Pete City Hall.
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Cook, who has been organizing an Oppressed People’s Protest, hopes to use the event to educate people about how a form of slavery exists in America’s prisons today. Once incarcerated, Cook is passionate about speaking out against the 13th amendment allowing prison labor.
“When you put it in historical context, we can see how we continuously are being duped," Cook said.
“If you feel like you’ve been voting for years and your voice hasn’t been heard, you should come out.”
Correction: Jake Geffon’s name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.
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Tampa Bay Times protest coverage
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