Forest Park will celebrate its fifth annual Juneteenth celebration Saturday, June 22 at the Forest Park Aquatic Center.

Juneteenth is the holiday, officially celebrated in 42 states, that began as a way to commemorate the end of slavery in the state of Texas in 1865. Though the Emancipation Proclamation was declared in 1863, Robert E. Lee had surrendered and the Civil War had ended in April, 1865, it wasn’t until two months later that 2,000 Union soldiers sailed to Galveston and made it clear that slavery was over in the state of Texas.

“Large regions of Texas didn’t hear about the end of the Civil War,” said Forest Park Kiwanis Club member Jerry Lordan, who taught history at Fenwick High School for many years.

Forest Park Commissioner Rory Hoskins, himself a Galveston native, started Forest Park’s first Juneteenth pool party in 2009. But it has grown and is now co-sponsored by the Kiwanis Club and the Park District of Forest Park, with support from Forest Park Elementary School District 91 and the Forest Park Public Library.

“A pool party is significant because the last facilities to be integrated during the civil rights movement were swimming pools,” Lordan said.

It was on June 19, 1865 when Union General Gordon Ranger read a statement from a balcony declaring “All slaves are free,” and “The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages.” The 13th Amendment ending slavery was ratified in December 1865.

Jubilation broke out in Texas and a yearly celebration was born across Texas and neighboring states. Celebrants gave the holiday a nickname, mashing up the words “June” and “Nineteenth.”

Juneteenth has been an African-American tradition in Texas since the late 19th century. In Illinois it is officially celebrated on the third Saturday of June. In 2003, then State Senator Barack Obama introduced a bill in the state legislature making Juneteenth an official holiday in Illinois.

The Forest Park event begins at 8:15 p.m. It is family-centered and involves free hot dogs, a raffle, deejay, and giveaways. Families can swim for free until 11 p.m. A number of local businesses sponsor the event, including Forest Park National Bank, Ferrara Candy Company, Mohr Oil, Leonard Creative Works, MB Financial, Consolidated Auto Service Center, Ultra Foods, the Forest Park Review, Oak Park Regional Housing Center and Walgreens.

The Forest Park Library has developed a special display of books and magazines about Juneteenth this week.

Juneteenth is celebrated in all manner of ways across the U.S., Hoskins said last year.

In Galveston, where he grew up, the festival stretches out for a week, “almost like Mardi Gras in New Orleans.” Festivities range from a one-day street fair, like the event held in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood last weekend, or can involve parades, beauty pageants, a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation and scholarship awards.

For Hoskins, the Juneteenth pool party is a way for the Village of Forest Park to celebrate a holiday with special significance for African Americans. The Martin Luther King holiday is held in cold weather in January, and Juneteenth lets participants enjoy outdoor family activities, he said.

But multi-cultural organizers insist Juneteenth is an event for everyone. For the past four years, the crowd has been multi-ethnic. The event is supported by Forest Park Police and is family-oriented. Hoskins said Juneteenth has never had problems with crashers causing trouble.

Forest Park Kiwanis Club and other sponsors are developing Juneteenth traditions for neighboring towns.

“I think it’s important for Forest Park to take the lead in celebrating Juneteenth,” said Lordan. “It’s still relatively new in Chicago.”

The year 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of the end of slavery in the U.S. and the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth. Plans are being hatched with local historical societies to create a Juneteenth parade stretching through Oak Park, Forest Park, Maywood and Chicago’s Austin neighborhood, Lordan said.

This article has been updated to include correct start and ending times for the Juneteenth event.

Jean Lotus

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...