Say the word Juneteenth and it's pretty much a given that most people won't have the faintest concept of what you're talking about, let alone realize that in some states (including this one) it is a holiday. An eventful day in history, most notably for blacks, Juneteenth is an abbreviation for June 19, 1865, the day slavery truly ended in America. President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation may have become official on January 1, 1863, but slaves deep in the heart of Texas had no idea they had been granted equality until two and a half years later. That's when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger led Union soldiers into Galveston, Texas, and delivered the news that delivered blacks from their plight: The Civil War was over and so was slavery.
Texas state legislator Al Edwards led efforts to designate Juneteenth a holiday in his home state. On January 1, 1980, he succeeded, making Juneteenth the first emancipation commemoration to be granted official state recognition. Twenty years later the observance of Juneteenth continues to expand across the United States. A growing movement made up of Juneteenth America, Inc. and the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation is on a crusade to make it a national holiday. So far, in addition to the Lone Star state, Oklahoma, Delaware, and Florida recognize Juneteenth. Nevertheless celebrations are held all across the nation, many right here in Miami.
At sunrise on Sunday morning, at historic Virginia Beach on Virginia Key (opened by the county as a park and beach for blacks during the height of segregation in 1945 and soon to be restored as a site to honor the civil rights struggle), locals will gather for The Middle Passage Remembrance Sunrise Ceremony. Participants are encouraged to bring offerings of flowers, fruits, and traditional African foods to pay tribute to the memory of millions who died crossing the Atlantic on slave ships as well as those who survived. Families are welcome to frolic at the beach, which will remain open for the entire day. Historical photographs and memorabilia will be on display and author Marsha Dean Phelts will be on hand to autograph copies of her book, An American Beach for African Americans, which details American Beach, a resort and community developed on Amelia Island, north of Jacksonville, by black millionaire Abraham Lincoln Lewis. (On Saturday at 1:00 p.m. at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida, Phelts will deliver a lecture titled "Florida's Black Beaches Revisited.")
Indoors, A+ Resources Fine Art Gallery plans a Juneteenth Celebration of its own. This Friday evening a reception marks the beginning of an exhibition of the same name. The festive atmosphere will be highlighted by a selection of brightly colored Bahamian junkanoo festival costumes, traditionally worn during joyous street parades held in the islands on Boxing Day (December 26) and New Year's Day. Haunting yet charming paintings by visionary artist Amos Ferguson will hang on the walls too. An octogenarian, Ferguson considers his vision one that "comes from God." Ferguson, a storyteller, teacher, and philosopher, creates paintings that carry on the tradition of Bahamian folklore, myth, and legend, reinforcing the notion that whether or not official holidays exist, precious elements of one's culture can still be preserved.