THOMASVILLE — On May 24, the city of Thomasville announced that the city administrative offices will be closed on the Juneteenth holiday.
Juneteenth is celebrated every year on June 19 to commemorate African American freedom. This holiday, however, is not a federal holiday and is only celebrated in 47 states, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Thomasville City Council member Wanda Warren was an advocate for the city change and said It’s important to educate the community about Juneteenth and the history of African Americans in ending slavery.
“The city recognizes that we are a very diverse community, and it’s important in our times to recognize all of the city things within our community,” she said. “African Americans of course not only comprise a large majority of our community, but also have been instrumental in creating history in our city too, so it’s time to start acknowledging our African American community.”.
Ucher Dent, director and founder of No More Shackles, initiated Thomasville’s first Juneteenth celebration back in 2019 and said she is very thankful the city is finally recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday.
“I have gained so much respect for the city of Thomasville. It’s mind-blowing and I wasn’t expecting it,” she said. “When I received the information I was in tears because this has been something dear to my heart for maybe five or six years after stumbling across Juneteenth. I think it says a lot about our city and a lot about wanting American history to be told because Black history is American history.”
Jack Hadley, founder and curator of the Black History Museum, said he also appreciates the city’s cooperation and willingness to make changes but wants the city to recognize the official date slaves became free in Thomasville.
“The 20th of May in Thomas County and North Florida is when word came down that slaves were free and that piece has not been recognized,” he said. “It needs to be acknowledged that Texas was the last one to get the word but for Thomasville and Thomas County and all of North Florida, the 20th of May is actually the day slaves were freed. I don’t want to knock out no-one for celebrating the African American culture and so I support what the young people are doing.”
Hadley said the official date was researched and discovered at Florida A&M University.
It was on June 19, 1865, when Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to announce the end of the Civil War and the end of slavery.
Texas was the first state to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday back in 1980. Juneteenth hasn’t been a huge celebration in Thomasville until recent years.
As the recognition of Juneteenth as a holiday marks a new milestone, Warren said education is the key factor in making Thomasville more inclusive.
“I think the first thing we have to do is educate our whole community,” she said. “Everyone is different within our community and it’s important for us to be educated about our differences instead of excluding those that we do not understand, so I think it will go a long way to be a catalyst to educate our community about other factors in our community and it will hopefully make our community more inclusive.”
This year the City of Thomasville is partnering with No More Shackles Empowerment Mentor Program, Douglass High School Alumni Association inc., One Heartbeat Inc. and the Thomasville Chapter of the NAACP to host a Juneteenth festival celebration on June 19 at 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Douglass High School where the Black History Museum is located.
Dent said there will be 83 vendors present along with activities such as horseback riding, trivia for children and live entertainment.
“This year, we want it to be more than people coming to eat. We want people to leave with power,” Dent said. “It’s meant to be for the public but to have purpose, so we will have speakers coming and talking about different ways of how we can unleash our purpose of power to keep our freedom.”
The Jack Hadley Black History Museum also will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.