SEBRING — Perhaps if three funerals hadn’t been held Saturday, Juneteenth would have crawling with visitors.
But Mayor John Shoop was there at noon to address 35 people at the park across Martin Luther King Boulevard, where Bountiful Blessings was one of three churches filled with mourners.
Maybe, Al Joe Hinson said at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, they would come over after the service. Hinson, who is running for school board in the Avon Park district, was one of two politicians who set up tents. The other was Tres Stephenson, who spent Saturday morning and afternoon dispensing free popcorn and slushees. Customers were encouraged to donate to the Juneteenth cause.
Two boys playing were asked what Juneteenth was. “Something about the slaves were free,” one said.
Pretty close. Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the Civil War had ended and that the enslaved were now free men and women. That was two-and-a-half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
Reactions to the profound news ranged from shock to jubilation, said Juneteenth.com.
Attempts to explain the delay of the news have yielded several versions. One is that the messenger sent to Texas was murdered, another is that the news was deliberately withheld by enslavers to maintain the plantation labor force.
Since then, however, Juneteenth has been held on the second or third weekend of June. The celebration of June 19th was coined Juneteenth and grew with participation from descendants. The Juneteenth celebration was a time for reassuring each other, for praying and for gathering remaining family members.
Juneteenth continued to be revered in Texas decades later, with former slaves and descendants making an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston on this date.