Another festival that took place Saturday was the Sankofa Juneteenth Heritage Festival.
Juneteenth is a shortened form of June nineteenth, the date in 1865 when Union General Gordon Granger read the Emancipation Proclamation to the slave population of Galveston, Texas. President Lincoln had issued the proclamation nearly three years earlier, but few slaves in the Confederate States had knowledge of it.
“So when they found out, they just dropped their plows in the field,” said Ima Linda Thompson, who has been organizing the Pensacola Juneteenth celebrations with her husband, Elder Columbus Thompson, for nine years. It’s been a holiday of the State of Florida since 1991, observed on the third Saturday of June, but the Thompsons feel that awareness is still sorely lacking.
“I’m from south Louisiana, where we celebrated Juneteenth more than we did the Fourth of July,” said Columbus. “A lot of people [in Pensacola] still don’t know what it is and why we celebrate it. That’s why we try to keep it in the forefront, so people will know. There’s too many young people that don’t know their history.”
“Old ones too!” interjected Linda.
That’s why the Thompsons continue their Sankofa programs. “Sankofa” is a West African word that means “go back and get it” and refers to the importance to preserving history. Columbus and Linda regularly travel to schools and colleges to give presentations about African-American history and help children learn more about their heritage.
“They have no sense of belonging, because they don’t have that connection,” said Linda. “And so when we go and do these lectures and festivals, it gives us a chance to let them see and hear that there’s something that they have to be proud of.”
This was the first year Juneteenth has been held at the Maritime Park — and, because of the previous weekend’s rained out grand opening celebration, it was the first event to be held at the park’s amphitheater.
“I like the venue,” said Columbus, who was also barbecuing some lunch for a group of Marines who volunteer at Juneteenth every year. “If you don’t like the history festival we’re putting on, come for the view.”