Juneteenth, which may soon become a national holiday, has been celebrated in Forest Park since 2009 when Rory Hoskins, now the mayor, was serving as a village commissioner. He was the first Black elected official in the village.
Growing up in Texas, Hoskins said Juneteenth was an annual event that he more or less took for granted. In a new documentary video, released by Forest Park’s Juneteenth committee, Hoskins said that as a young boy growing up, the day wasn’t really that important to him.
“It was a chance to drink all the grape, orange and strawberry soda water I wanted in one sitting,” he said.
But after he moved away from Texas, he found himself missing family and the event. It was, he said, a tradition he wanted to share with his children.
“As an elected officer in Forest Park, I felt like as a leader of color it was up to me to establish the tradition for the community in Forest Park where our children could enjoy the event.”
Since then, the village has celebrated Juneteenth with the annual Jubilee Pool Party at the park; the location, said Hoskins, was significant because public pools were one of the last places to be integrated.
In February 2020, the Juneteenth Committee began planning the 12th annual event. But by March, the party was canceled because of COVID-19. After the death of George Floyd, the committee wanted to find a meaningful and public way to honor the day given social distancing requirements. They came up with the idea of creating a video. It’s called “Juneteenth: The Official Holiday of a Tomorrow Built on Hope.”
From Hoskins, to Forest Park Against Racism co-founder Ayanna Brown, to Cong. Danny Davis and state Sen. Kimberly Lightford, and including the voices of children, the video presents the history of Juneteenth and shares the thoughts and hopes of residents and organizers.
Carey Carlock, CEO of Riveredge Hospital, was interviewed for the documentary too. Riveredge has been a supporter of the Juneteenth celebration since its beginnings in Forest Park and was, in fact, the first corporation to sponsor the activities.
“When we celebrate, we show up. And showing up is essential right now,” said Carlock.
It was June 19, 1865, when army general Gordon Granger announced in Galveston, Texas that all those who had been enslaved were now free. Although Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had, at least on paper, officially ended slavery on January 1, 1863, word hadn’t spread and enforcement had not been universal. For two and a half years, Blacks were still enslaved in Texas.
Lightford said in the video that it wasn’t until she was in college and studying Maya Angelou’s readings that she learned the Emancipation Proclamation hadn’t immediately freed all those enslaved.
“There were thousands and thousands of people who were still enslaved after Abraham Lincoln released the Emancipation Proclamation,” said Lightford. “Two years had gone by and people were still enslaved in the state of Texas. I could not believe what I was reading.”
Monique Cotton Yancy, District 91 school board member who also serves on the Juneteenth Committee, spoke in the video.
“This is not just Black people history,” said Cotton Yancy. “This is U.S. history. You need to know the past to be able to correct it.” She added: “I don’t want to just live; I want to be able to thrive, and have my children thrive and grandchildren on down the line.”
Watch the video at whatisjuneteenth.com.