Bay Area Juneteenth traditions have more to celebrate with new federal holiday

The country has a new federal holiday – Juneteenth, but for years, Black communities organized and celebrated events in Tampa Bay and across the U.S. Those celebrations will continue this weekend. 

Juneteenth refers to June 19, 1865, the day the final slaves in Galveston, Texas learned of their freedom – more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. It is now the country’s 12th federal holiday and is considered the longest-running African-American holiday. This is the first federal holiday created since 1983, the year Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established.

Many schools don’t teach anything about it. Juneteenth is not part of the Florida curriculum nor is it even part of AP History, the most intensive national high school U.S. history course.

Across the Bay Area, many have planned their own Juneteenth celebration. This weekend several cities are doing the same.

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At 6 p.m. Friday, the 2021 Miss Juneteenth and Jr. Juneteenth Pageant will be held in Tampa. 

On Friday night, downtown Tampa fixtures will be lit up in red, yellow, and green -- the traditional Pan African colors in recognition. On Saturday, a parade from Cuscaden Park to Middleton High School will start at 11 a.m.

At Raymond James Stadium, "R.O.C. the Block" starts at noon with live music, DJs, and food trucks creating a block-party atmosphere.

Six cities in Polk County will celebrate Juneteenth with events on Saturday and Sunday. Lakeland has marked the occasion for close to 30 years.

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Community leaders say they hope the new holiday will become a time to learn about our history.

"It’s my hope and my dream that this doesn’t just become a day of celebration, festivals, picnics, you know?" said Yvette Lewis, Hillsborough County NAACP President. "But it becomes a day where we actually sit down and educate everyone on this part of history."

Many government agencies won’t recognize Juneteenth with closures until next year. As far as closures go Friday, there aren’t many. The post office and banks will likely still be open, although it’s best to call your bank to find out. Most federal courthouses will be closed today.