The city of Gainesville is kicking off a month-long “Journey to Juneteenth” celebration, starting this weekend to commemorate the emancipation of African Americans in Florida in 1865.
On Saturday, the Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center will host a “Celebrating Our Ancestors” event at 9 a.m. at 837 SE Seventh Ave. The event will celebrate May 20th as the official day enslaved people in Florida heard the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation on the steps of the Knott's Building in Tallahassee.
The event will include a march from Depot Park to the museum and a yard full of activities, including spoken word, live music from Leonard Perry, Charles Washington, and a faith-based organization called 1000 Voices of Florida, said Vivian Filer, chair of the Cotton Club Museum.
Organizers will also host a memorial event at 11:30 a.m. for Black Union soldiers who lost their lives in the Civil War.
“We have been on a journey at the Cotton Club Museum to make sure that people know that Florida’s Emancipation Day is not the 19th of June, but it is the 20th of May,” Filer said. “It’s not fair to the people of Florida to ignore the day that they were emancipated.”
Filer said Florida Emancipation Day and Juneteenth, the federal holiday on June 19, should be celebrated by all Americans because any day enslaved people were freed is an important day.
“Freedom is a day to celebrate, not just for African Americans but all Americans,” Filer said. “Because we need to know these things and be involved in the history of our country... If we don’t know African American history, we don’t know American history at all.”
Filer said this year, the museum decided to make the event catered to the Emancipation Proclamation Day, a bigger occasion because many people within the state still say they don’t know when or where it is, despite several events that they have put on in the past.
“This occasion on May 20th will certainly fit our mission in terms of maintaining and teaching African American History as a reality of our everyday lives,” Filer said. “We are dedicated to make sure factual history is told and, in this case, we are making sure the history involving the Emancipation Proclamation is told properly.”
Filer said she wants all young people in the state to know that they have such a rich history and it’s unfortunately some don’t know it.
“It’s not their fault that they don’t know it, but their ancestors’ fault,” Filer said. “The school system’s fault, America’s fault for not putting it in the history books. But, since they didn’t put it in the history books, we have to tell it, know it and share it.”
Filer said for those who are interested in learning African American History should go to a Black history museum or talk to family about their history and learn all they can.
Several events will be held throughout the month of June to commemorate “Juneteenth,” including Filer’s Enstoolment Celebration—an African diaspora tradition bestowing her the title of Queen Mother for her past, present and future service to the Gainesville community.
The event will be held 5-8 p.m. on June 3, at Best Western Gateway Grand Hotel (4200 NW 97th Blvd.) and will include a ceremony and banquet with food and entertainment.
“I feel happy about being enstooled around the celebration of Florida’s Emancipation,” Filer said. “Not only is this a very big part of my ancestral history, I think it brings even more association to the fact that we are people with a great past and a past that’s still alive. It’s acknowledging that African Americans are people who came from a place of history, wisdom, and all of the things that we cherish as African American people.”
Other events include the History of the Seminole Nation: Unchained and Unconquered, which will take place June 4 at Oak View Park (810 NW Eighth Ave.), and a Juneteenth film festival showcasing a wide range of entertainment made by locals at the A. Quinn Jones Museum (1013 NW 7th Ave.).
For more “Journey to Juneteenth” events, visit the city website.
The Cotton Club is a gem and many thanks to Vivian Filer for establishing it!
With the other news of TB McPherson Park closing on Sundays, why not host Peaceful Sundays there? It’s a perfect location and should be open for history lessons and events. The youth and out of town visitors would see it more.