A joyful crowd turned out Saturday in the Washington High School Gym for what organizers said was Port St. Joe’s largest Juneteenth celebration to date.
The air conditioning, which had been turned on the night before, could not keep up with the record high heat index and the large crowd, and visitors fanned themselves with programs as they caught up with friends and neighbors. But even the heat couldn’t bring down the celebration.
“What a great way to bring the community together to celebrate not only the emancipation of those who were enslaved, but also to come together over good food and good music in fellowship,” said Dannie Bolden, one of the event’s organizers, as he looked around the room.
Saturday’s festival was only one of several organized events put on by the North Port St. Joe Project Area Coalition, the Pioneer Bay Community Development Corporation and other community leaders to mark the occasion.
On Friday night, the community enjoyed a jazz concert on the baseball field. Saturday morning, a parade marched through downtown Port St. Joe. Saturday evening, the community celebrated with a block party that lasted late into the night, and on Sunday, community members gathered for a gospel concert.
“We started the first Juneteenth day celebration in 2005, and that year, we did it all outside, and it was hot, but 300 people showed up,” said Bolden, who organized the community’s first Juneteenth celebration, modeling it after celebrations he experienced living in Anchorage, Alaska. The festivities died down for several years after the Boldens moved away, but picked up steam again in 2016 with the formation of the North Port St. Joe Project Area Coalition.
“We’ve been doing it ever since through the North Port St. Joe Project Area Coalition,” Bolden continued. “And now, we are also working with Pioneer Bay Community Development Corporation.”
Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. It marks the anniversary of the announcement of General Order No. 3 on June 19, 1865, proclaiming freedom for enslaved people in Texas.
Originating in Galveston, the holiday has since been celebrated annually on June 19 in various parts of the United States
The day was officially recognized as a federal holiday on June 17 of last year with the signing of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act.
“What is so exciting about this year is that it’s a federal holiday. And so, we decided that this year, we really had to kind of blow it up,” said Bolden. “So we asked some young, energetic, entrepreneurial, creative folks to get involved with it, and they really took that challenge.”
Next year, Bolden says he hopes to see the event continue to grow.
“We’re looking forward to this getting bigger and better every year. And that young group of folks is going to propel this celebration forward.”