Community leaders unite to mark Juneteenth celebration

From left to right: Carl Darrisaw, Michael Hart, Victor Hart Sr., Dominique Hart, Sonya Hart and Donald Hart. PHOTO BY NICK SAMUEL

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — For years, advocates have told the stories from an almost forgotten history – the traditions surrounding Juneteenth that mark the end of slavery in the U.S. Now, Indian River County commissioners are commemorating the national celebration, along with Emancipation Day – Florida’s own recognition of freedom from enslavement – as a holiday in Indian River County.

Victor Hart Sr. receives a Juneteenth Proclamation from the Indian River County Commissioners on June 18, 2024 at the county chambers. PHOTO BY NICK SAMUEL

Well-revered community leader Victor Hart Sr., 93, stood at the podium with family members inside the county chambers as commissioner Joe Flescher read the proclamation honoring Juneteenth, already a federal holiday. Hart’s family approached commissioners to recognize the holiday locally.

“All of this inspiration comes from how I was raised. My parents taught us how to go and ask for what you want,” said Victor Hart’s son Donald Hart, who is a Sebastian Police Department officer, vice-president of the Indian River County NAACP and vice-president of the Florida State Conference NAACP. “I reached out to commissioners. They made it happen. We wanted to make sure we have it in record that emancipation really happened.”

The recognitions come as the nation and Indian River residents prepare to celebrate Juneteenth with programs and outdoor events.

Juneteenth, also called Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Emancipation Day or Black Independence Day, was recognized as a federal holiday in 2021 under President Joe Biden. While community gatherings to recognize the event have been held within the past few years, celebrations date back to 1866 in Texas.

Juneteenth recognizes June 19, 1865, when General Gordan Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and read the Emancipation Proclamation. Florida’s Freedom Day – Emancipation Day – came a month earlier.

General Edward McCook first read the Emancipation Proclamation in Tallahassee on May 20, 1865. The news came two years after President Abraham Lincoln first issued the law which declared “that all persons held as slaves are, and henceforward shall be free.”

“Hopefully we start getting people in the community to recognize what it’s all about. We as a race were enslaved for hundreds of years,” Hart said. “We need to understand that there is still a battle; there are still obstacles in our way to try and be successful.”

After slavery came Reconstruction, where Black people made major achievements, including becoming state legislators and earning positions in various levels of government. Then, Jim Crow laws stripped away the progress made after the Civil War while enforcing segregation and pushing Black people away from the voting booths through literacy tests, intimidation and violence.

Over decades, activists pushed for change and equality. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches, marches and drive led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, religion or national origin.

Today, there is still work that needs to be done, leaders say. The fight for justice continues as African-American AP courses are removed from classrooms and diversity, equity and inclusion positions are eliminated from college campuses.

Juneteenth events for Indian River County

Longtime community leaders such as Teddy Floyd and Jonnie Mae Perry want to make sure history – especially Black history – is not forgotten. In May, Perry – who is the executive director of the Gifford Historical Museum and Cultural Center – and a delegation of other Indian River County residents joined a formal celebration of Emancipation Day in Tallahassee.

This week, Perry and Floyd are hosting Juneteenth events where people of all ages and backgrounds can eat, have fun and soak in knowledge of American history.

From left to right: Percy Perry, Jonnie Mae Perry, Althemese Barnes, Vera Smith and Linda Cross at the Journey to Emancipation Conference in Tallahassee. PHOTO PROVIDED

“This will bring unity in the community. It’s a day to enjoy yourself,” said Floyd, a retired sheriff’s deputy who has coached football at Vero Beach High School for more than 30 years, leading him to earn the Community Hero Award last year. “I’m very passionate. The community needs to believe in us.”

Perry will host an event on Wednesday at the museum, with documentaries on the role of emancipation in Florida. Teddy Floyd and his wife Terri Floyd, founders of the nonprofit T&T Community Enhancement Organization In Action, will host an event Saturday at the Victor Hart Sr. Community Enhancement Complex.

Juneteenth events:

  • Gifford Historical Museum and Cultural Center, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., 2880 45th St., Gifford; Enjoy pizza, voter registration and documentaries about Juneteenth
  • Victor Hart Sr. Community Enhancement Complex, Saturday, June 22, 2024, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., 4715 43rd Ave., Gifford; Enjoy youth flag football, face painting, bounce houses, food and vendors, cultural performances and more

Perry is known as a leading community historian when it comes to preserving the history of Gifford. The Gifford native remains connected to her own family, tracing her ancestors’ roots and discovering she is the fifth generation of the enslaved.

Perry usually hosts a reenactment at the museum that portrays the moment McCook read the Emancipation Proclamation from the steps of the Knott House in Tallahassee. In 2020, Leon County, where Tallahassee is located, became the first county in Florida to recognize Emancipation Day as a county holiday.

Perry is also a member of the Indian River County Genealogical Society.

Floyd said proceeds from the Juneteenth event on Saturday will go toward the annual turkey drive where residents pass out turkeys to families in need. The T&T nonprofit aims to provide resources to individuals and families, while also empowering communities through events and initiatives to bolster unity, cultural awareness and development.

Floyd said he considers Victor Hart Sr. as a mentor. The longtime deputy worked at the sheriff’s office for 30 years, all while building bridges between law enforcement and residents.

Floyd, whom many refer to as the “superman of Indian River County,” has received several local and state awards. His focus, however, remains on the people.

Floyd remembers quotes his mother Apostle Theresa Floyd would say to him.

“Never look down on a man unless you’re picking him up,” Floyd said. “You’ll get your reward when you get to heaven with God. You got to work while you’re down here.”


Related Articles

Comments are closed.