Clewiston, LaBelle host Juneteenth celebrations

Caloosa Belle/Danika J. Fornear: Hendry County’s Inaugural Juneteenth Celebration and Freedom Walk was a success.

CLEWISTON — Thanks to Dr. Janet Holmes Peeples, and the bright and resilient community surrounding her, the first-ever Juneteenth celebration was kicked off with a Freedom Walk on Friday, June 19. The event was a success, despite the searing heat and humidity. The walk began at the entrance to Harlem, and continued through town across U.S. 27, where they met at the Civic Park.

Juneteenth or Freedom Day celebrations honor the date Union soldiers, led by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865, with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. (This was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation became official Jan. 1, 1863.)
“So proud of Dr Janet Holmes Peeples, and the Juneteenth Committee for such a phenomenal inaugural historical event,” said Janet Taylor, Glades Lives Matter chairwoman.

During the walk, some sang as they drove along in decorated golf carts, some marched through the heat with determination, and most held signs protesting injustice and promoting unity. Out of concern for each other and their community, many wore masks and practiced social distancing throughout the event.

“The crossing of Highway 27 was symbolic to crossing barriers to unite within the Harlem community, and outside the Harlem community. Looking forward to greater things next year,” Mrs. Taylor said.

At the park, music played, community leaders and public officials gathered with the community in solidarity. When it began to rain, the attendees were resilient and focused.

Hendry County Elections Supervisor Brenda Hoots was there registering people to vote, as well.

“Please give a shout out to Chief (Aaron) Angell, the CPD, HCSO and City of Clewiston,” Ms. Taylor added. It was clear that so many in town and throughout the county had come together in a time of severe divisiveness, to keep everyone safe, she said.

On the other side of the county, in the Ford-Sunset Community of LaBelle, a smaller celebration was also held. Free food and refreshments were served as people came to register to vote, talk and celebrate the day of freedom.

Speakers took the stage, adorned with signs, for the first-ever Hendry County Juneteenth Celebration in Clewiston’s Civic Park.