Every year on June 19, hundreds of people pack Washington Park for a day of food and music and to celebrate a holiday often overlooked: Juneteenth.
“We have a holiday that we can celebrate our freedom,” said Georgette Wiggins, who founded Juneteenth South Broward. “This holiday is over 150 years old.”
The holiday marks the end of slavery in the U.S., when slaves in Texas were told they were free on June 19, 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.
It's a holiday Wiggins says many of the customers at her Hollywood restaurant, Sweeteheartz, never heard of.
“As people were coming in, we go ‘Happy Juneteenth,’ and everybody that we said it to was like, ‘What’s that? What is Juneteenth?’ Wiggins said.
In 2018, she started organizing the annual event.
“To me, it’s unbelievable,” Wiggins said. “How did we miss that in our history books? How did we miss that point?”
“Black holidays matter,” said Dr. Tameka Hobbs, associate professor of history at Florida Memorial University. “Black culture matters, and I don’t think you’re going to find a blacker holiday than Juneteenth.”
Hobbs says Juneteenth has never been as widely celebrated as July 4 or other national holidays.
“When we talk about our segregated experiences and our segregated history, segregated culture, it’s very much apart of that,” Hobbs said. “We celebrate the Fourth of July, but you have to recognize that our ancestors in 1776 were not free.”
But Hobbs says this year may be different.
“Juneteenth this year is really going to take on a special significance as we’ve seen people across the nation and the globe take to the streets in protest,” Hobbs said.
The holiday is now catching the attention of major corporations like Target, Best Buy and other companies.
“Many companies now are deciding to make Juneteenth a paid holiday,” Hobbs said. “You’re really seeing a step towards inclusion, cultural inclusion.”
President Donald Trump was blasted for scheduling a rally on Juneteenth in Tulsa, Oklahoma — the site of a race massacre in 1921.
The president later changed the date.
“It would have been incredibly insensitive to the particular experience of African Americans,” Hobbs said.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, this year’s festival won’t be held at Washington Park in Hollywood, but instead will be virtual.
“We still will do the Black national anthem that we do,” Wiggins said. “We’ll still have our poets. We’ll have the entertainment.”
It’s a day Wiggins says is too important not to celebrate.
“Know your history,” Wiggins said. “Know where you’re from. Embrace it.”