By Kathy Steele
After being declared a federal legal holiday in 2021, Juneteenth is gaining greater recognition as communities across the nation celebrate, and commemorate, the historic end of slavery in the United States.
The holiday marks the day in history, when on June 19, 1865, Union soldiers reached Galveston, Texas, with the news that slaves were free.
President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation to free slaves in Confederate states in rebellion against the Union in 1863.Texas was the last Confederate state to fall to Union soldiers.
For generations Black communities celebrated Juneteenth, or Freedom Day, with picnics, church services, remembrances of ancestors, poetry readings and programs about African American heritage. Over the years, a handful of states, including Texas, recognized Juneteenth as a state holiday.
For many years, Pasco County has issued proclamations honoring Juneteenth.
Now, with a national holiday marking the day, Juneteenth is garnering more attention.
“I am very pleased and very happy with interest being shown not only in Pasco (County) but across the country. People are celebrating even before the day of Juneteenth.There’s great history here,” said Cassie Coleman, a member of the East Pasco Juneteenth Committee and an organizer of the Rosewood Traveling Exhibit.“I think it’s going to get bigger and bigger,” she said. She also thinks it will “teach our children a little bit more about our history.”
In Pasco County, the Parks, Recreation, and Natural Resources Department is partnering with businesses and community groups to organize a week of Juneteenth activities. Partners include East Pasco Juneteenth Committee, AdventHealth, Pasco-Hernando State College, the Pioneer Florida Museum & Village and the Rosewood Family Reunion Inc.
In Wesley Chapel, residents of Union Park and Union Park East will host the third annual Juneteenth Family Day to “celebrate freedom,” on June 18 from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., at The Landing. Festivities will include free drawings, games, spoken word performances, music, dancing, and food trucks.
In prior years of local Juneteenth events, Pasco County’s parks department and AdventHealth embraced the festivities with a goal to expand outreach for health screenings within Black and Hispanic communities.
In 2020, a Saturday event drew about 300 people, said Kimberly Miller, East Pasco recreational coordinator for the county’s parks department.
Last year as a national holiday, the Juneteenth crowd grew to more than 700 people, she said.
“It’s become huge.We’re looking to make it bigger and better.”
Festivities from June 15 through June 18 will include traditional picnics with health screenings, and family activities, music, a bowling night, a community paint party and a special presentation on the history and legacy of the Rosewood Massacre.
A special Rosewood Traveling Exhibit will be on display at the Pioneer Florida Museum & Village from June 13 through June 20. On June 17, Rosewood descendants from the Lacoochee community will host a special presentation: A Night to Remember.
Lacoochee resident Ebony Pickett is a descendant of several survivors of the Rosewood Massacre.
The trauma of Rosewood is still felt, Pickett said. Some survivors changed their names soon after because they thought they would be tracked down.“It was a real fear,” she added.
Rosewood was settled in the 1840s by white and Black residents, but by the 1890s, the town was predominately Black. The one exception was a white family that ran a general store.
In the first week of January 1923, white mobs including Ku Klux Klansmen from surrounding counties descended on Rosewood fueled by an untrue report that a white woman had been assaulted and raped.They burned and destroyed the town. Some residents received shelter from the white store owner. Others fled into the nearby swamp and hid for days in bitter cold.Those who survived never returned but resettled in other communities, including Lacoochee.
The number of deaths is disputed.
The official record acknowledges eight deaths — six Black people and two white people. But Pickett said survivors remember many more Blacks died.
Rumors of a mass grave have persisted, despite official reports to the contrary.
Survivors were reluctant for many years to talk about the massacre until prodded by younger family members. Pickett said she didn’t hear the story of Rosewood until she was in third grade. It was a secret too dark to be spoken of publicly by those who lived through the assault, she said.
Pickett’s uncle, Willie Evans, who died in 2020, was among survivors who fought to secure reparations through the Florida legislature. A Rosewood claims bill was approved in 1994 that included direct payments to a small number of survivors and educational scholarships to descendants.
The Rosewood Family Reunion Inc. created the Rosewood Traveling Exhibit to tell their story. The special presentation will include members of the Rosewood families, a youth art show and a performance by the Rosewood Family Choir.
Pickett is glad to see Juneteenth becoming nationally recognized as a day to celebrate but also an opportunity to reflect and learn about the past. “We’re happy to do more,” she said.
Coleman agrees. “It’s something that will put us in mind of facts and history, so we won’t repeat it in future.”
Upcoming Juneteenth celebrations
These special events are planned during Juneteenth Week, June 15 to June 18
Beats N’ Brushes, a canvas painting party set to music
WHEN: June 15, 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: The James Irvin Center, at 38122Martin Luther King Blvd., in Dade City
COST: $10 Tickets are required.
Family Bowling Night
WHEN: June 16, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: East Pasco Pin Chasers, 6816 Gall Blvd., Zephyrhills
COST: $5 Tickets are required.
A Night to Remember
WHAT: A special presentation on the legacy of Rosewood and a youth art show.
WHEN: June 17, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. WHERE:PioneerFloridaMuseum&Village,15602 Pioneer Museum Road, Dade City
COST: Free but pre-registration is required. Space is limited.
The Rosewood Traveling Exhibit
WHAT: A special exhibit on the legacy of Rosewood including photographs and artifacts from Rosewood family survivors
WHEN: June13 through June 20, during museum hours
WHERE: Pioneer Florida Museum & Village, 15602 Pioneer Museum Road, Dade City
COST: Free but pre-registration is required. Space is limited. Contact the museum for hours and admission. INFO: 352-567-0262
Third Annual Family Celebration Day
WHAT: Juneteenth celebration organized by residents of Union Park and Union Park East
WHEN: June 18, 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.
WHERE: The Landing, 32885 Natural Bridge, Wesley Chapel
Second Annual East Pasco Juneteenth Community Celebration
WHAT: Free health screenings; food trucks; family fun zone; games; drawings for prizes; local vendors; Juneteenth Toddler Pageant; and special performances WHEN: June 18 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
WHERE: The James Irvin Center, at 38122 Martin Luther King Blvd., in Dade City
Published on June 8, 2022.