Yvette Carter celebrated Juneteenth for half a decade before the rest of Gainesville caught up.
Private events, like the yearly Cotton Club Juneteenth breakfast, brought people together since 2009 with the promise of community, celebration and freedom before Gainesville’s City Commission hosted events for the first time last year. The holiday has the power to teach Black history to the community, Carter, GRU’s chief inclusion officer, said.
“It truly is a representation and a model for how cities across the nation can ensure that, no matter what political winds blow, that we are teaching accurate American history,” she said.
Gainesville celebrated Juneteenth throughout the city Saturday, with the Freedom Fest at Bo Diddley Plaza, a Freedom Walk in Depot Park and a fish and chicken fry at Shady Grove Church.
Freedom Fest featured evening music, poetry, dance performances, food and vendors selling arts and crafts to a crowd of about 100 people.
The fest was a part of Gainesville’s second annual “Journey to Juneteenth,” a monthlong celebration recognizing the end of slavery in Florida and the U.S. It started on Florida’s Emancipation Day, when Union General Edward McCook read the proclamation declaring the end of slavery in the state May 20, 1865. The celebration ended on Juneteenth, the day Union General Gordon Granger read the proclamation in Galveston, Texas and freed the last U.S. slaves June 19, 1865.
President Joe Biden signed a bill declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday in 2021. Florida is one of 26 states that does not recognize the federal holiday.
Nathaniel Courtney Jr., a Nathan Ross Inc. board member, hosted the event and opened the festival with a message about Juneteenth. While the moment exemplified freedom, he said, the struggle for equality continues.
Michael Hill, a 38-year-old Gainesville resident, said he came to the festival to celebrate his community and honor his ancestors. The day reminded him of the hardships they dealt with, he said.
Hill celebrated Juneteenth for about a decade, using books, videos and movies to teach his kids about the day He hoped next year’s festival would feature books to help educate others about Black history.
About 80 people gathered at Depot Park to walk through parts of East Gainesville Saturday morning. City Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker of District 1 said the event was about remembering, moving forward and creating policies that don’t continue the mistakes of the past.
Signs detailed important Black history snapshots, like the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, the 1867 Reconstruction Act and the enactment of the Black Codes, alongside the route. Larger banners at a water station highlighted pivotal moments in Gainesville’s history from 1539 until 2019.
Elois Waters, a 61-year-old Gainesville resident, teaches not only dance but African-American history to students of every age group at the Ministries of Expression Song and Dance.
Dance is powerful, Waters said, and implementing culture into dance helps encourage and inspire young people.
“It opens the windows and opens the doors and opens the minds of other people to see, ‘there’s so much more than I realized,’” Waters said.
She led a group of children who danced at the Freedom Walk and a larger group at Freedom Fest. She said it was an opportunity to combine the wisdom of elders and the energy of youth to make a difference.
Waters did not celebrate Juneteenth until she was an adult; she didn’t learn about it as a child.
Black history isn’t taught well at the public school level, she said. Alachua County Public Schools promised to extend Black history education past Black History Month.
Waters hoped the events inspired people to take action and improve Gainesville’s communities and society as a whole.
Denise Burton, the 66-year-old assistant treasurer of the Porters Quarters Community Connection, said she came to the Porters Quarters Fish and Chicken Fry at Shady Grove Church Saturday to regain her sense of community. She’s spent most of her time in Gainesville taking care of her sister, but she wanted to show she’s still committed to helping everyone around her, she said.
“I’m trying to fit back in,” Burton said. “It’s my community too.”
4th Ave Food Park held a Black Maker’s Market Sunday to commemorate the holiday by promoting locally-owned Black businesses. It featured 17 vendors and live music.
Reginald Nelson, the 39-year-old owner of Daily Burn Candle Studio, said it was incredible to showcase his business with other Black business owners.
“I really just feel like I’m a part of something that is much bigger than I can imagine,” Nelson said.
He said the holiday felt like it was in its early stages and loved seeing attendees want to learn more about Juneteenth while supporting businesses. He was relieved others realized the magnitude of the holiday, but he was surprised by how long it took.
“It’s almost like a sense of weight has been lifted off our shoulders,” he said.
Anushka Dakshit contributed to this report.
Jackson Reyes is a third-year sports journalism major. He is the Gator's soccer beat reporter and previously worked as a general assignment reporter on the Metro desk. When he's not reporting, he enjoys collecting records and taking long walks on the beach.
Sandra McDonald is a third-year journalism major and the Student Government reporter for the University Desk. This is her first semester at the Alligator. When she's not reporting, she's probably reading fantasy novels and listening to Taylor Swift.