School’s out, and for the sixth year, Forest Park school children and families are invited to splash for free at the Forest Park Juneteenth Family Pool Party June 14.
“The tradition seems to be taking hold,” said Commissioner Rory Hoskins, who first introduced the Juneteenth pool party in 2009. “It seems a group of school children have come up through grade school and look forward to this annual end of the school year event,” he said.
The party, which draws about 800 to the Forest Park Aquatic Center every year, is always filled with children and families of all races. Juneteenth is now co-sponsored by the Kiwanis Club, the Park District, Forest Park Elementary School District 91 and the Forest Park Public Library.
“What child doesn’t like a pool party at the end of the school year?” Hoskins said. “I hope they learn something about the holiday.”
Juneteenth, now celebrated in 42 states, was begun to commemorate the end of slavery in the state of Texas in 1865. Even though the Civil War had ended with Robert E. Lee’s surrender in April 1865, it wasn’t until two months later that Union soldiers showed up by ship in Galveston, Texas and told slaves there that slavery was ended.
Union General Gordon Ranger read a statement from a Galveston balcony June 19, declaring “All slaves are free.”
“The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages,” he said. The 13th Amendment ending slavery was ratified a few months later in December 1865. Jubilant freed slaves mashed up the date “June” and “nineteenth” in an affectionate nickname for the date.
Hoskins himself grew up in Galveston, where he said Juneteenth is celebrated like “Mardi Gras in New Orleans.”
The holiday is one of the oldest African-American celebrations in the United States. All over Texas, it was celebrated since the late 19th century, often in special “Emancipation squares” purchased by local citizens who could not get permission to hold a party on park land during the Jim Crow era.
“As barriers came down some of those lands have been sold off,” Hoskins said.
Former Kiwanis President and Historical Society director Jerry Lordan said last year a pool party was a fitting tribute to Juneteenth.
“The last facilities to be integrated during the civil rights movement were swimming pools,” said Lordan, a history teacher at Fenwick High School.
In 2003, then State Senator Barack Obama introduced the bill in the General Assembly that made Juneteenth a holiday in Illinois.
Next 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 events with Oak Park, Forest Park, Maywood and Chicago’s Austin neighborhood, Hoskins said.
The Juneteenth 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.