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Forest Park will celebrate its fourth Juneteenth Pool Party on Saturday, June 23 from 8 to 11 p.m. at the Aquatic Center. The party is free to the public, said Forest Park Commissioner Rory Hoskins, who helped introduce the Juneteenth party to the village. The Juneteenth holiday celebrates the end of slavery in 1865 but was not officially celebrated in Illinois until 2003 when then-state senator Barack Obama introduced a bill to make the Juneteenth holiday official.
"The Civil War ended in April 1865," said Hoskins. "But white slave owners in Texas were slow to spread the news until General Gordon Granger marched into Galveston on June 19 backed by 2,000 Union troops and stood in the general square and said slavery was abolished and slaves would now work for wages."
Juneteenth has been an official Texas holiday since 1890. Today 41 states officially celebrate it. In Illinois, it is celebrated on the third Saturday of June. (The Juneteenth parade in Chicago's Austin neighborhood occurred last week.)
Hoskins grew up in Galveston, the bulls-eye of the holiday's birthplace. Texas Juneteenth celebrations often include a public reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, Underground Railroad historical re-enactments, scholarship awards and a week-long series of festivities among African Americans - often in special parks purchased with community funds specifically earmarked for the Juneteenth events.
"I grew up with it," Hoskins said. "We had beauty pageants, parades, musical performances, barbecues. It was more like Mardi Gras in New Orleans."
A mash-up of "June" and "nineteeth," the holiday is called by an affectionate nickname, but also reflects the dialect spoken by slaves at the time, said Hoskins. "It was illegal to educate slaves [during slavery]. They didn't speak English like you and I do, there were Creole influences. It was like Pidgin."
For Hoskins, the Juneteenth Pool Party is an enjoyable way for the village of Forest Park to make meaningful a holiday that has special significance for African Americans although he and the party's multicultural organizers say it's an event for everyone. "The crowd is multi-ethnic," he said. "All of the village officials are invited to attend. It's always very cold on Martin Luther King day in January. This is a great way to have a family event outside."
He also points out that swimming pools were among the last institutions to be integrated during the Civil Rights Movement. "Having the [local] government recognize Juneteenth is a symbol of progress, compared to 40 years ago. It's always great to see the village doing things for families and kids."
The party is now co-sponsored by Forest Park Kiwanis Club and the park district. A number of local businesses also donate to the event, which includes raffles and giveaways. "We always have great support from the park district and the Forest Park police," Hoskins said.
Forest Park's reputation for free festivals has led to some crowd problems over the past two years, specifically when disruptive teenagers ran through late-night crowds at Summer Fest on June 8, Hoskins acknowledged. But he stressed that Juneteenth is a family event. "I'm proud of the fact that we have never had any problems at Juneteenth. We always have police officers on hand."