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SWFL celebrates Juneteenth

Posted at 8:17 PM, Jun 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-20 12:54:49-04

FORT MYERS, FLA — With a few strokes of a pen, on June 17, Juneteenth, a celebration of freedom, became federally recognized.

That celebration would start on June 19, 1866, a year after slaves in south Texas were finally told they'd been freed.

The news came more than two years after the emancipation proclamation was signed in 1863.

"It took time for the information to get there," said Charles Barnes, the Chairman of the Lee County Black History Society.

That information moved so slowly, that slaves in Florida didn't find out they were free until a month earlier, on May 20, 1865.

To understand what this new federal holiday means to the community, FOX 4 spoke to folks at the Lee County Black History Museum and at the Edison Mall's Juneteenth celebration.

"I think it's an opportunity for everyone to collectively rejoice in how far black people have come in this country," said Bresheena Kinney who recently moved to Southwest Florida.

"It's giving vindication of what happened and saying 'Okay this happened, we're going to honor these people to let them know we're not going to forget,'" said Kevin Boyd, the Post Commander for American Legion 38.

That said, as some celebrate the holiday's new recognition, others worry that progress towards other issues isn't happening fast enough.

And Barnes says he gets it.

"Justice reform, imprisonment, incarceration, economic empowerment. Those things still exist and we still fight hard for those things," he said.

But he also adds that progress is a process.

"People don't realize that black history month used to be black history week, then it became black history month. It's a process. It's not until the 70s that it became black history month," he said.