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Making sure Juneteenth is on the radar

For years, the day slaves learned they were free has been ignored.

Published June 15, 2007


Growing up, no one ever told Wanda McCawthan about a celebration called Juneteenth.

In her history classes, no teacher ever mentioned it when covering the unit about the Civil War.

It wasn't until years later, when she read about it in magazines, that McCawthan would learn about the country's oldest commemoration of the end of slavery.

Now, McCawthan is trying to educate the next generation about Juneteenth - a black holiday that has largely gone under the radar.

"The younger generation doesn't know about Juneteenth unless we teach it, " said McCawthan, 53, a library professional for St. Petersburg College. "They will never read it in a history book."

Juneteenth's origins are in Galveston, Texas, where, on June 19, 1865, people got the news that the Civil War had ended and the slaves were freed.

The news came two-and-a-half years after President Abraham Lincoln's signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

On Saturday, McCawthan and other community leaders will be on hand to share this history during the Friends of Ridgecrest's annual Juneteenth celebration in Largo.

The event, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Greater Ridgecrest YMCA, will feature exhibits, storytelling, music, dancing and soul food.

It's part of an annual communitywide effort to shine light on a holiday centering on independence and freedom.

Clearwater Library's North Greenwood branch is hosting its own celebration at 2 p.m. Monday.

Activities are geared toward young adults, and will include a movie about the history behind the holiday as well as crafts.

"There's so much history we still are unraveling and I think young people need to hear that, " said sociologist Lorraine Mayfield Brown, a presenter for the library's celebration.

But the event isn't just for young people, or blacks, McCawthan said.

"My whole focus is bringing the community together, " she said.

"It's about African-American freedom while at the same time encouraging development of all cultures."

Fast Facts:

If you go

What: Juneteenth Celebration, featuring music, storytelling and a fish fry.

When: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Greater Ridgecrest YMCA, 1801 119th St. N, Largo.

More info: Tasker Beal, president, Friends of Ridgecrest, (727) 547-0600, ext. 6165.


If you go

What: Youth Juneteenth celebration

When: 2 p.m. Monday

Where: North Greenwood Library, 905 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., Clearwater

More information: (727) 462-6895

[Last modified June 14, 2007, 22:16:25]

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