Members of Polk County's Black community, along with members of the League of Women Voters, accept the Juneteenth proclamation from Mayor Pro-Tem Sara Roberts McCarley, far right. | Kimberly C. Moore, LkldNow

Lakeland is gearing up to celebrate its 31st annual Juneteenth, the commemoration of the emancipation of enslaved people following the U.S. Civil War. 

Events kicked off Monday when Mayor Pro-Tem Sara Roberts McCarley issued a proclamation declaring June 19 as Juneteenth Day in Lakeland.

“For 158 years, Juneteenth Day has been the most recognized African-American holiday observance in the United States,” Roberts McCarley read.

June 19,, 1865, was the day Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger announced freedom for slaves in Texas and has been celebrated throughout the nation’s Black communities since then. One by one, states made it an official holiday.

In 1991, state Rep. Alzo J. Reddick Sr. of Orlando authored legislation proclaiming Juneteenth Observance in Florida, which was signed into law by then-Gov. Lawton Chiles. The day was first recognized as a federal holiday in 2021, when President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law.

“This day commemorates the survival, due to the God-given strength and determination of African-Americans, most of whom came to this country stacked in the bottom of slave ships in a month-long Atlantic Ocean journey known as the ‘Middle Passage,’ ” Roberts McCarley read from the proclamation.

“Approximately 11,500,000 African-Americans survived the voyage to the New World, while the number that died may be larger, only to then be subjected to the tearing apart of families and forced into slavery after arrival, which continued for more than 200 years in the United States.”

2020 Juneteenth observance in Lakeland
More than 200 people attended Lakeland’s 2020 Juneteenth observance in Munn Park. | Joni Bing, LkldNow

Under the leadership of Doris Moore Bailey, Lakeland’s Juneteenth Committee has:

  • Donated several authors’ books to Kathleen’s schools and bicycles at New Bethel AME Church and Harmony Missionary Baptist Church.
  • Provided trips to Zora Neale Hurston Festival in Eatonville for senior citizens and youth.
  • Honored more than 272 people in Lakeland and Polk County with awards and gifts.
  • Established a Juneteenth Book Scholarship through the Polk Education Foundation.
  • Assisted with the John Taylor Scholarship.
  • Sponsored historical movies, health fairs, political forums and rodeos.
  • Partnered with Catholic Charities and other organizations.

Juneteenth events in Lakeland

Saturday, June 17: POSTPONED Lakeland will hold its official observance, “Juneteenth in the Park,” at Jackson Park from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.  Festivities will include free music, food, health stations, information for returning citizens, voter registration, life skills stations, a fashion show, and a hot-dog-eating contest.

Saturday, June 17: A program will be held in the Coleman-Bush Building from 4:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. A suggested donation of $10 is requested.

Monday, June 19: a virtual open mic music, poetry, hip hop and jazz event on Zoom.  Register. 

Friday, June 23: A Motown fashion show at Polk State College’s Lakeland campus from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Saturday, June 24: Polk State College’s Lakeland campus will host a brunch to honor Black student scholars and recognize local leaders of Black fraternities and sororities from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.. Admission is $30 for adults and $15 for youth under 12.

Saturday, June 24: Juneteenth Corvette car show from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Lake Mirror Promenade.

Saturday, July 1: The Inaugural Florida Arts and Film Festival will be held from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. at Polk State College’s Lakeland campus.

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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 or 863-272-9250.

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