SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — This Juneteenth weekend is a weekend of firsts for many across the country. Though this may be the first year that June 19th is recognized as a federal holiday, it’s not a first for the city of Tybee Island.
Saturday kicked off the first city-wide Juneteenth Celebration on Tybee Island. The day started as hundreds came out for the annual wade-in on North Beach. A tribute to the group of protestors that defied the Jim Crow laws and participated in the historic 1960 wade-in. Efforts that led to the eventual desegregation of Tybee Island beaches in 1964.
“I thought today was one of the best celebrations I have ever seen. I thought today is a time where you can reminisce about what went on back in the day, but you also have to think about where we’re going in the future,” said Edna Jackson, former city of Savannah Mayor.
Jackson, who participated in those 1960 desegregation efforts as a 15 year old girl, was arrested for swimming in what was then a whites-only beach.
“We started other movements, the kneel-in’s at various churches because they were the most segregated hour in the city of Savannah. Then we started the wade-in’s, and then we did the economic boycotts of Broughton Street. It was something that we did, but it was because it was the right thing to do,” added Jackson.
Tybee MLK Human Rights Organization Coordinator Julia Pearce was happy to celebrate the newly-made federal holiday. She believes the decision to celebrate the freedom of all Americans shouldn’t be one that’s up for debate.
“We forget, when we celebrate the 4th of July over a million people were enslaved in the United States. When we celebrate the 4th of July, and I celebrate the 4th of July because it means freedom, but just think of the idea of being able to celebrate when everyone was free, everybody. That’s what we’re celebrating today, freedom for everybody,” said Pearce.
Cecili Reid drove out from Atlanta to participate in the wade-in. Her, like many others, were excited to see Juneteenth be nationally recognized but urge that this is still only the beginning.
“For me, it means it’s a step in the right direction. It’s not the end, it’s not all over after this morning. There’s a lot of things that need to be done. This means that we have some momentum and hopefully will see some changes that will be significant for everyone in the country, not just African Americans,” said Reid.
Various live performers and vendors will be set up on the Tybee Beach Pier throughout the weekend from 12-8PM, as well as an African Art exhibit at the Guard House on North Beach from 12-6PM.