Juneteenth arrives as ‘day of observance’ in Florida

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Juneteenth has been celebrated since the 1860s, but recent history has pushed June 19 into the national spotlight, leading to its federal holiday status in 2021.

“With George Floyd, it takes us back to the Civil Rights movement,” said Martin Byrd, president of the Dunbar Festival.

“There was a lot of deaths that was happening to the Black community,” said Travell “T.O.” Oakes, assistant director of multicultural development initiatives at Florida Gulf Coast University.

As states across the U.S. celebrate the day marking the end of slavery in the country,
Florida is one of 23 states that still have not officially marked Juneteenth as a state holiday.

Leaders in Southwest Florida said that makes celebrating Juneteenth even more important.

“Here in the state of Florida, as you know, it is extremely important, because there are folks that want to erase our history,” said Vincent Keeys, president of the Collier County NAACP, “and so we are here to stand in odds of their attack. We are here to let people know that there is a history, that we stand in front of that history, that we represent the struggles that African Americans have made.”

Since the 1990s, Florida has recognized what happened on June 19, 1865, the day more than 200,000 enslaved Black people learned they were finally free. Juneteenth has been marked as a day of observance, but lawmakers have to act for it to achieve state holiday status.

“Why not take time to celebrate this day when we celebrate other holidays that are very similar to it as well?” Oakes said. “If we’re not doing these celebrations, history gets erased.”

Even if that day never comes in Florida, the annual celebrations by those who understand Juneteenth’s significance always will.

With Juneteenth being a day of observance, non-essential federal buildings and all U.S. post offices will be closed Monday.

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