On Monday, banks will be closed and so will post offices in observance of Juneteenth, a federal holiday that marks the end of slavery in Texas in 1865. The city of Lakeland will be open for business this year, including a city commission meeting scheduled for 9 a.m. Monday.

“We set our commission calendar a year in advance,” Mayor Bill Mutz said in an email to LkldNow. “The Monday Federal observance of Juneteenth was not considered and is certainly something we can observe in the future.”

On June 19, 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden signed into law legislation making every June 19 a federal holiday. Because it falls on a Sunday this year, the official observance – and day off – is Monday.

Doris Moore Bailey, a local historian and president of The Bailey Group, explained that there has been some controversy in Florida around the date chosen by the federal government. That’s because events in the 1860s happened incrementally as word spread throughout the country in the days before telephones, although the telegraph existed.

President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was issued in January 1863. It was not proclaimed in Florida until May 20, 1865, when it was read aloud on the steps of Tallahassee’s Knott House on May 20, 1865, more than a month after the end of the Civil War and marking the official end of slavery in the Sunshine State. That is commonly known as Emancipation Day in Florida. The proclamation was read on June 19 of that year in Galveston, Texas, and that date came to be known as Juneteenth. Emancipation wasn’t ratified by Congress until December 1865, and Florida didn’t re-enter the union until 1868.

In 1991, the Florida Legislature passed a bill recognizing Juneteenth, signed by the late Gov. Lawton Chiles, a Lakeland native. Last year, state lawmakers tried to make May 20 the official date to celebrate the end of slavery here, but they came up short in the Legislature – and then Biden signed into law the June 19 federal holiday. The Florida Legislature has yet to officially recognize the federal holiday and, until it does, it’s not an official holiday for state and municipal workers.

“I don’t expect anything differently here in the state of Florida, here in Polk County, and here in Lakeland, and that’s just how people will be,” said Moore Bailey. “Haines City is the only one of 17 municipalities (in Polk County) that has recognized the holiday with a day off with pay. If anyone wants to take the day off, just take it as a floating holiday. Until people learn to respect who you are and learn to respect that day in time and history, then it’s going to remain the way it always has been. Because of the nature of the political climate at this time, I wouldn’t push anything.”

On June 6, Mutz presented Moore Bailey with a proclamation to mark the 30th annual Juneteenth celebration in Lakeland.

“I … do hereby proclaim June 19, 2022, as Juneteenth Day in the city of Lakeland, and encourage the citizens everywhere to reflect upon the value of freedom and to join in this celebration,” Mutz said.

Moore Bailey is planning a family-friendly celebration on Saturday at the Coleman-Bush Building on Martin Luther King Boulevard, set for 3 p.m. – 6 p.m. Set to speak is former state Rep. Alzo Reddick, Sr., of Orlando, who sponsored Juneteenth legislation in 1991. In addition Col. Paula Edwards, the only female Buffalo Soldier, will re-enact the historic event, Faith Celebration Church Bishop Joel Brown and his wife, Pastor Tiffanie Brown, will speak, and five people will be recognized for their civic involvement. A men’s beard-and-mustache contest is also scheduled.

“There’s no admission, but we would like for them to donate a box of cereal to help New Bethel AME Church with its summer program,” Moore Bailey said.

If you go:

Lakeland Juneteenth Celebration
Saturday, June 18, 2022, 3 to 6 p.m.
Coleman-Bush Building, 1104 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave.
Admission: Free. Donation of one box of cereal requested.

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Kimberly C. Moore, who grew up in Lakeland, has been a print, broadcast and multimedia journalist for more than 30 years. Before coming to LkldNow in the spring of 2022, she was a reporter for four years with The Ledger, first covering Lakeland City Hall and then Polk County schools. She is the author of “Star Crossed: The Story of Astronaut Lisa Nowak," published by University Press of Florida. Reach her at kimberly@lkldnow.com or 863-272-9250.

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