PBS and NPR for Southwest Florida
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A celebration of Freedom: Juneteenth in Fort Myers

Bryant Monteilh

The national holiday Juneteenth is officially celebrated this year on Wednesday June 19.

In Fort Myers, the historic day was celebrated in advance on Saturday. The sound of celebration filled the air at Roberto Clemente Park in Fort Myers as dozens of people came together to recognize a day that represents freedom for all.

Opal Lee, recognized as the grandmother of Juneteenth, helped to make the day a national holiday. Janice Cass, founder of the Lee County Black History Society shared about Opal Lee’s vision.

“Her belief is that this holiday is for all Americans and really for all people because it’s about freedom and democracy. We are not free until all of us are free," said Cass.

Community activist Jerri Ware talks about the importance of the holiday.

“It’s important because we’ve got to know our history. Because if we don’t know where we came from, we won’t know where we’re going," said Ware.

Juneteenth represents June 19 in 1865 when slaves in Texas received word from Union troops that they were free by executive decree. However, May 20 is Emancipation Day in Florida. The Sunshine State is one of 22 states that recognizes the day — but not as a state holiday.

Charles Barnes, chairman of the board for the Lee County Black History Society, explained.

“When you look at history Juneteenth was really the day in Texas. May 20th was the day in Florida. Some folks had a disagreement with that Juneteenth should be the national observance day because there were so many other different days but you had to pick a day. Because it was out there already, because about 13 states were already celebrating Juneteenth including Florida," said Barnes.

During the event inside the History Museum, actors helped to bring a bit of the past to life.

For the little ones in attendance, like 5-year-old Amarion, it’s all about having fun and playing.

When asked what do you like about being here today? "Yeah…" When asked, what is today, this celebration? “To play” You heard of Juneteenth? "Yeah…" what does that mean to you? It means I want to bounce on that…”

It was the bouncy ball that meant more to him than any adult questions. No matter the age, Juneteenth represents a celebration of life, freedom and in many ways those things that unite us.

WGCU is your trusted source for news and information in Southwest Florida. We are a nonprofit public service, and your support is more critical than ever. Keep public media strong and donate now. Thank you.