Good news: Oak Park will celebrate Juneteenth at 6 p.m. at Live Cafe on June 19. | File photo

The enslaved weren’t freed when the Declaration of Independence was signed. They weren’t freed when President Abraham Lincoln penned the Emancipation Proclamation. It wasn’t until Gen. Gordon Granger arrived with 1,500 Union troops in Galveston, Texas — a little over two months after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox — and issued General Order #3 on June 19, 1865 that African Americans, who had until then been considered property, were officially free human beings. Enslaved persons were not formally educated and therefore didn’t speak “standard English” in the 1860s, so instead of saying June 19th or the 19th of June, they used the term “Juneteenth” to commemorate their emancipation.

Forest Park will recognize its 10th annual Juneteenth Pool Party at 6:30 p.m. on June 16 at the Forest Park Aquatic Center, Park District of Forest Park, 7501 Harrison. Organizer Rory Hoskins said his goal in staging the event has always been to educate people on the existence and importance of the tradition and also what Juneteenth commemorates. Wells Fargo Bank will be sponsoring the event this year through a “Team Member Network” of African-American volunteer employees, one of whom lives in Oak Park.

It’s “a way to give back to the community and provide experience for their employees because they want their employees to be well-rounded people who are volunteering in the communities,” Hoskins said. 

What Hoskins started 10 years ago seems to be having a ripple effect. Not only has Wells Fargo gotten involved, but nearby communities are holding their own Juneteenths. Oak Park will celebrate the day at 6 p.m. on June 19 at Live Café, 163 S. Oak Park Ave. A three-day event will also be held in the Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago, June 22-24.   

In Forest Park, Lynn Allen, who until recently served as director of multicultural education in Oak Park’s District 97, and works closely to organize the annual event, noted that the Fourth of July and Juneteenth go together “because it shows the duality of our society. The Declaration of Independence, issued on July 4, 1776, didn’t mean independence for everybody. By putting the two together, that’s independence for everyone.”

For those who think Juneteenth is only for African Americans, Hoskins said, “A lot of white people died in the Civil War” and 100 years later, white people played an important role in the Civil Rights Movement and passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.

That’s part of the reason Rev. Bill Teague, pastor of Hope Tabernacle Church, has worked on Juneteenth almost from the beginning, and continues to support the event.  

“What I like about the pool party is that it’s bringing everybody together,” Teague said. “It’s a good time to encourage diversity.” 

Gerald Lordan, history instructor at Fenwick High School and member of the Forest Park Historical Society, noted that Jill Wagner, Historical Society board member, and Cub Scouts group leader, has researched Forest Park residents who served in the Union Army in the Civil War, and found enlistment papers for a number of railroad workers whose complexion was identified as “dark,” implying that the history of the village’s participation in that conflict included African Americans. 

“The Forest Park Historical Society studies the past to understand the present and shape the future,” Lordan said. 

Forest Park resident Victoria McCoy, who identifies as African American and Irish, said she works on Juneteenth because it benefits the whole community. 

“It’s not only good old-fashioned fun but it’s an event for everyone, including children,” she said.

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Tom Holmes

Tom's been writing about religion – broadly defined – for years in the Journal. Tom's experience as a retired minister and his curiosity about matters of faith will make for an always insightful exploration...