The Banks brothers perform at the village's Juneteenth flag raising ceremony on June 7 | Alex Rogals, Staff Photographer

Mayor Rory Hoskins was happy to announce recently that, after a one-year hiatus, the annual Juneteenth Pool Party will be held at the park district this Saturday, June 19 from 7 to 10:30 p.m.

The announcement read, “Based on current safety guidelines, the pool at 7501 Harrison St. will have limited capacity (max of 200 guests and six per household to allow as many families to attend as possible). As an added bonus this year, we will be featuring the blockbuster film, Black Panther, on the park district lawn at 8 p.m.”

When Hoskins first hosted the Juneteenth Pool Party in 2008, he had a lot of explaining to do.

Is Juneteenth a typo? Didn’t all slaves gain their freedom when General Lee surrender to General Grant on April 9, 1865 or even earlier when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed? Why should white people celebrate Juneteenth — I mean, besides getting into the pool without paying?

Steve Rummel, left, and his son Owen Rummel, hang the Juneteenth flag on June 7 during a Juneteenth celebration at village hall. | Alex Rogals, Staff Photographer

Now, 13 years later in 2021, if you say the word Juneteenth, most Forest Parkers will at least free associate it with the words “pool party,” and some will even know about General Order #3 which General Gordon Granger read to the former slaves and slave owners in the Galveston, Texas area on June 19, 1865, informing them that the war had effectively ended two months earlier.

To show how far the concept of Juneteenth has come in those 13 years, SB1965, passed by both legislative branches in Springfield, is sitting on Gov. Pritzker’s desk. If he signs it, each year the third Saturday of June will be observed in Illinois as Juneteenth National Freedom Day.

In addition, a coalition, including Forest Park Against Racism (FPAR), the Midwest Juneteenth Committee, the Forest Park Public Library and the Forest Park Historical Society, is sponsoring a project they are calling Ribbons in the Sky “in Celebration of Juneteenth.”

Ribbons in the Sky runs through June 20 at the fence to the east of the Roos Recreation Center at Harrison Street and Circle Avenue. | Maria Maxham/Editor

Marjorie Adam, a co-founder of FPAR, described Ribbons in the Sky as “a community interactive art project” in which Forest Park residents obtain a ribbon and an Accountability Pledge at the Park District of Forest Park or the Forest Park Library and sign it. Then they tie it to the park district’s fence on the southeast side of The Park as a sign of commitment to anti-racism.

A Synopsis of the Accountability Pledge:

I pledge to work toward eliminating the injustices, inequities, and misconceptions that come from the systemic racism rooted in our society. I personally will work toward positive and transformational change through education, active listening, stepping up and speaking out against racist remarks, and acknowledging that I have privilege and power that can be used toward building a more just and equitable community where we can all hold each other accountable.

In a 2017 interview with the Review, Mayor Hoskins observed that most people in this country avoid talking about unpleasant topics like slavery and race, but “I think our country is evolving now to a point where we can have discussions about slavery and the symbols that are associated with slavery.”

 “Our purpose,” he said, “is to teach children and families about the Juneteenth tradition and its origins. Since our committee began hosting the annual pool party, a generation of kids in Forest Park and neighboring communities have learned about the tradition.

“The event has consistently been welcomed by important institutions in Forest Park, including village government, the park district board and management staff, and most importantly District 91 [Forest Park’s public school district]. I’m thankful to D91’s excellent team of principals for helping us to teach our kids about the Juneteeth tradition.”

Hoskins grew up in Galveston and was therefore familiar with the history of Juneteenth. He explained that because most slaves had not been taught to read or write standard English, instead of saying June 19th, they called it “Juneteenth,” so since 1866 it’s been celebrated as a day of freedom. The freed slaves had no connection with the North so the Fourth of July was meaningless to them.

As a child he was fascinated with slavery, how slavery in the U.S. differed from slavery in other parts of the world, and how a big war was fought over it. “In the South,” Hoskins recalled, “they taught us that the Civil War was about states’ rights. That always mixed me up as a kid.”

Luckily for Hoskins, he grew up with educated parents who helped him not swallow the false narrative he heard in school. His mother had a master’s degree from Iowa State and taught sociology and anthropology at a college in Galveston.

On a field trip with his class to a museum, he saw some souvenir Confederate money for sale. When he got home, he told his mother that he wanted to buy some. He recalled, “She didn’t like that too much.”

Earlier this month, on June 7, Hoskins held a Juneteenth flag-raising ceremony outdoors at village hall.

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