Bartow, Haines City, Winter Haven Celebrating Juneteenth
by James Coulter
On Jan. 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, officially abolishing slavery and freeing more than 3.5 million enslaved African Americans. Two years later, on June 19, 1865, Union Army General Gordon Granger released General Order No. 3, officially proclaiming freedom from slavery in Texas.
To celebrate the freedom of African Americans following these two important proclamations, the date is often commemorated as Juneteenth, though it is also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, and Liberation Day. No matter what you call the holiday, several cities in Polk County will be celebrating it this weekend.
The City of Bartow will be hosting its Juneteenth celebration under the Polk Street Underpass (Over the Branch) on June 19 from 10am to 5pm, and June 20 from 12pm to 4pm. The two-day event will include food trucks, vendors, live music, line dancing, cornhole competition, and children’s games and activities. Live Entertainment include April Brown of Orlando on Saturday and Tremayne Toombs Campbell of Lake Wales on Sunday.
Zelma Harris, Event Co-Chair and Vice President of the Bartow Deacons and Stewards Alliance, considers the holiday very important, both to the country and to local communities. It is a time when members of the African-American community can reflect on the progress that has been made towards achieving freedom and equality.
“It is a time to celebrate our freedom,” Harris said. “There are many things we have accomplished. We are privileged to have [them], benefits from those who have sacrifice their lives and time in the past, and this is a time to celebrate, for us to know our history and know our past, know where we came from, and to be excited about where we are going.”
Harris has lived in Bartow for 50 years and remembers when Juneteenth was celebrated in the community, but it has been a long time since the last celebration. The COVID-19 crisis prevented it from being hosted last year. “It was in effect for several years under the leadership of…the Neighborhood Improvement Council, then it dropped off and no one has done anything for several years now,” Harris said.
Now that the pandemic is starting to wane with lower infection rates and increased vaccination rates, more and more people are willing to attend public events such as this. Even then, to ensure public health and safety during these uncertain times, hand sanitizer stations will be provided and physical distancing will be encouraged.
“I think we are at a time during the pandemic where people are feeling more comfortable and getting out,” Harris said. “It is an outdoor event, so they are not in a closed area. So people should feel more safe. We will provide masks and hand sanitizer. I think it will be well attended. At least we are hoping so.”
Jennifer Camp, another event co-chair, said: “we have put together two days of activities to reflect and rejoice in a safe environment and we encourage the Bartow community, as well as surrounding cities to come out and enjoy this fun-filled event. Yes! We are excited and we want the excitement to spill over.”
Here are several Juneteenth Celebrations occurring this weekend in Polk County. (Info and descriptions from their respective event pages):
Bartow Juneteenth Celebration
Where: Polk Street Underpass
When: Sat., June 19, 10am – 5pm; Sun., June 20, 12pm – 4pm
Food, fun, line dancing, prizes and even a cornhole competition is on the agenda for the 2021 Juneteenth Celebration in Bartow. The two-day celebration is June 19-20th, 2021. The event will also feature entertainment including guests artists April Brown and Tremayne Toombs Campbell.
Winter Haven Juneteenth Celebration
Where: Lake Maude Park, 1790 7th Street NE, Winter Haven, FL 33881
When: Sat., June 19, 1pm – 8pm
Attendees can look forward to historical reflections, spoken word performances, a battle of the bands, Family Feud: HBCU edition, and an electrifying performance from Winter Haven’s own Gritz and Jelly Butter Band! Kids of all ages can participate in the kid fitness challenge hosted by Andre Berto.
Annual Lakeland Juneteenth Observance
Where: Coleman-Bush Building, 1104 MLK Ave., Lakeland
When: Sat., June 19, 3pm – 5pm
The event is being held @ the Coleman-Bush building from 3-5 pm.
There will be food (free for children), event tables-if you would like to get a table for yourself or your group, please reach out to the contact below. Music & fellowship. There will also be vaccinations being administered during the event.
Northwest Community Market and Juneteenth Celebration
Where: Intersection of Lincoln Avenue and B Street
When: Sat. June 19, 9am – 3pm
The celebration in Lake Wales will give you an amazing opportunity to celebrate this important day in American history! There will be a great Kids Zone, vendor booths (some are still available), music, and a great time!
Haines City Juneteenth Celebration
Where: 799 Johns Ave E, Haines City, FL 33844
When: Fri., June 18, 6 pm – 9 pm
The 1st annual Juneteenth celebration is presented by Unity in the Community, NAACP Haines City Branch, Northeast Revitalization Group, the Northeast Rattlers, and the City of Haines City.
Join us for a night of arts & elegance at the Lake Eva Event Center for the 1st annual Juneteenth Black Tie Gala. Tickets are on sale now and include a catered dinner, entertainment, speaker, cultural art displays & more. Doors open at 6:00PM, with dinner at 7:00PM.