Juneteenth celebrations filled the weekend as Coastal Georgia communities commemorated the emancipation of enslaved African Americans.
The holiday name is a combination of “June” and “nineteenth,” marking the day in 1865 when Major General Gordon Granger issued an order proclaiming freedom for slaves in Texas — who were among the last to hear of the Emancipation Proclamation that had gone into effect two years earlier.
Originally celebrated only in Texas, the holiday was celebrated with prayer meetings, singing spirituals, and wearing new clothes to represent newfound freedom. Now, as a federal and state holiday, Juneteenth has become an annual tradition not just for Black Americans, but all Americans.
Here’s a snapshot of celebrations from Savannah to St. Mary’s:
Selden Park, Glynn County
Celebrations kicked off on Saturday when The Glynn County Tigers hosted Brunswick’s Juneteenth celebration at Selden Park. Several guest speakers, performers, and more than 50 vendors from the community came together to commemorate the day.
“Juneteenth is really our independence day,” Sonia Richardson, owner of Paradise Pineapples, and co-host of the Real Spill talk show, said. “I like the fact that a lot of people are getting together – it doesn’t matter the race or ethnicity – everyone is getting together and having a good time.”
One of the keynote speakers, Titania Cook who is the director of Juneteenth GA, told the crowd that while it’s important to celebrate the holiday, it’s also vital to continue educating people about the federal holiday and fighting for freedom.
“(Freedom) is not something that happened in one day,” Cook said. “It was a series of events, it was a wave of freedom that happened, and that’s why we’re able to celebrate today. And it’s not over, we still have work to do.”
That work includes uplifting the community, other event speakers such as Brunswick Mayor Cosby Johnson told the crowd who braved the harsh summer heat to come together and eat local food, cheer on school-aged dance teams.
“It’s the freedom that has not been bestowed upon us, but the freedom that we have taken for ourselves,” Johnson said. “The freedom that we have worked for, and fought for, and died for, and now that freedom together, on this day, we come as a city to celebrate. But in the midst of that celebration, we realize there are more fights to be had and more work to be done.”
— By Kailey Cota
Wells Park, Savannah
The city of Savannah presented its Juneteenth Festival on Saturday at Wells Park along with The Daughters of Mary Magdalene—an organization led by Marilyn Jackson and dedicated to the celebration of the holiday.
Savannah local Daryn Moxley was among the throngs of people enjoying the music, vendors’ booths, bouncy castles and a buffet of food.
“I’m 68 this year and I knew nothing about it [Juneteenth] until 4 years ago, and I think that it is so good for us to be able to inform our children and generations to come—this is definitely our 4th of July,” Moxley said.
The event featured Grammy-award winning vocalist and saxophone and flutist Jimmy Lloyd Brown, among others including JD Music, Lafayette Weber, and Jalin Alexander. Ivan Cohen and Hazel Scott also graced the stage reciting prayers for the crowd.
Teresa Riggins, a teacher, sported a Juneteenth shirt and colorful sunglasses. Around her, families ate grilled chicken and steaks, while kids played on the playground and slurped on rainbow icy drinks.
“Here I am just celebrating and I teach now, so I want to make sure I give my students the knowledge that I have. So here I am, paraphernalia and all,” she said, pointing to her shirt.
— By Audrey Gibbs and Sarah Harwell
A feeling of community wove together the Camden County Juneteenth Jubilee. The event — organized “for us, by us,” as one speaker said — focused on local Black artists, performers, vendors, and speakers.
Organized by the NAACP Camden County Branch and Ralph J. Bunche Camden County Training School Alumni Association, the celebration drew close to 300 people at the Cornelia Jackson Memorial Park in Woodbine.
“I think having that combination of celebration and education is important,” said Timothy Bessent Sr., president of the local NAACP. “[There’s] appreciation and gratitude for where we have come from, but yet anticipation of where we’re trying to go.”
Just across the street from the park sits the Ralph J. Bunche High School building, a powerful reminder of local Black history. Ralph J. Bunche was an all Black high school until it was desegregated in 1970, 16 years after the Brown v. Board of Education ruling.
Artie Jones, who graduated from Bunche in 1968 and currently serves as the president of the Alumni Association, and Joanne Mainor, who graduated in 1960 and then returned as a teacher, both reflected on their pride in the high school even through the systemic challenges it faced.
“I was in … maybe fourth or fifth grade before I saw any new school books, because all our books were written in, torn,” Jones recounted about his own school days.
Mainor, who was inspired to become an English teacher by her own instructor at Bunche, also shared stories and memories. “I had some good students. Good students,” she said. “I enjoyed my time teaching.”
“We’re proud of our heritage. We’re proud of our school,” said Jones. “We had some of the best teachers, and we learned far more than what the books taught us. We learned life. I can say that I have achieved more, and I have gone further because of the quality of education that I received here.”
— By Caelen McQuilkin
In Daffin Park on Saturday, The Youth Power Festival celebrated Juneteenth by promoting education and giving the community’s youth a stage to shine. The festival hosted various vendors and performers, including a youth percussion group and youth girls dance group. The event was hosted by Book Nation of Dreamers, Hello Neighbor SAV, BG2U Foundation, and Joanne Morton.
One of the vendors, Justin Zackery, a barber and artist displayed his creative artwork, what he calls an “abstract surreal” style of painting.
Zackery said he views Juneteenth as an opportunity to celebrate the fight of the people that came before him so events like this could happen today.
“Coming together, sharing our creative minds, whether it be business, art, music, everything. That’s what Juneteenth means to me, is just coming together and celebrating life itself,” Zackery said.
Meanwhile Forsyth Park held festivities organized by the Savannah Juneteenth Fine Arts Festival committee.
The park was filled with local vendors and onlookers, many of whom brought lawn chairs and coolers to sit back and enjoy the performances.
“Juneteenth is all about freedom. Freedom to be who you want to be, freedom to do what you want to do, to be able to live how you want to live without any bias and racism. We don’t like racism. We’re glad to be free,” Lekeya Mitchell, a mental health counselor, said with a wide smile.
— By Sarah Harwell and Audrey Gibbs
On Sunday, the Tybee MLK Human Rights Organization held a Juneteenth celebration at Tybee Island Memorial Park.
Among the many vendors and artists was Johannes “Jojo” Jones, also known as The Botanical Boy, who sold plants to the community as a part of his own business. His goal: spreading the word about the helpful nature of plants.
Jones was accompanied by Noble George, who is helping to expand the business in Augusta.
George expressed his gratitude for those who came before him as his reason for celebrating Juneteenth. “Enjoy the life you have and celebrate what our ancestors did for us,” George said.
On Monday morning, the mood was more somber as the Tybee MLK Human Rights Organization held the annual Tybee Island Wade-in to commemorate the efforts of those who helped to desegregate the beach some 60 years ago.
In the 1960s, Tybee Island, much like the rest of the United States, was segregated with explicit restrictions to those of color. This lasted until individuals such as former Mayor of Savannah Edna Jackson, took the fight for equality to Tybee, getting in the forbidden waters that led to everyone regardless of race being able to enjoy Georgia’s largest public beach.
Co-Founder/Provost of Tybee MLK Julia Pearce said that black history is at the fingertips with the advent of technology and research is crucial.
“We need to digest (history) and see who we really are. And understand that slavery was just a blip in our history. 400 years and African history is just a blip in the road. There’s a lot that happened before slavery. And a lot going on after. So what we need to do is be conscious of ourselves. And here in America, the struggle against slavery continues.”
— By Jabari Gibbs and Sarah Harwell
Further south, an excited crowd of families, friends and community leaders gathered for breakfast Monday at Brunswick High School to send off 20 students on a trip to inspire and educate a new generation of civic leaders dedicated to social change.
The participants in the so-called Justice Journey are all members of the school’s Social Justice club. They are traveling to Atlanta, Montgomery, Memphis and Little Rock to see important Civil Rights history firsthand. They will visit landmark sights and meet local leaders and politicians along with chaperones from the organizer of the trip, A Better Glynn, the community advocacy organization that counts Brunswick councilwoman Kendra Rolle and Brunswick High School’s assistant football coach Jason Vaugn as members.
Vaughn previously taught African American history to Glynn County high schoolers. Yet after the Georgia legislature passed its so-called divisive concepts law, the leaders of A Better Glynn wanted to ensure that youth from their community had the potential to learn a fuller history of America, one that centers their relatives and elders’ experience. The program became even more critical, in the aftermath of the racist murder of their neighbor, Ahmaud Arbery.