This Juneteenth, and every Juneteenth, Paradise honors a federal holiday with deep resonance for our nation’s history.
The annual holiday that marks the end of slavery in America is also a company holiday – and an opportunity for us to contemplate a complicated past and a way forward.
We always encourage our team to make meaningful connections in the travel and tourism space, and this year team members connected with a couple of organizations that enhance the tourism experience for black travelers.
Martinique Lewis is the President of the Black Travel Alliance, and the author of the ABC Travel Green Book and app, the modern take on Victor Green’s iconic Green Book travel guide for Black travelers during segregation. She travels the world to research her content and better connect travelers to the African Diaspora Globally. We spotted her in Florida recently and spoke with her about the meaning of Juneteenth.
“I want to encourage everyone to celebrate Juneteenth, as it’s not just a black holiday, it’s an American holiday, even if it wasn’t recognized federally until 2021,” she says. “It is a celebration of American history. And one of the ways that people can support is definitely by learning about what Juneteenth is and why it’s so important in the black community and in telling other people who wouldn’t necessarily know about Juneteenth. Another way is to support black-owned businesses on that day and really get out into different neighborhoods you’re not used to going to, or black-owned restaurants, black-owned tour companies or learning some type of black history, things that happened [where you live.]”
We did follow Marty’s advice and recently took a fascinating tour of Jacksonville’s Black heritage, Explore Jax Core, with the amazing Yolanda Copeland. A retired Deputy Sheriff and descendant of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina enslaved Africans, “Yollie” started her business in 2015 and with her first tour vehicle expanded in 2020 during the pandemic as a way to learn and share the kind of history that hasn’t been told – some of it painful.
Like in many cities across the country, a vast portion of black neighborhoods have disappeared due to neglect, urban renewal and disenfranchisement. Sugar Hill, once one of the most prominent and upscale black neighborhoods in Northeast Florida, has practically been erased. Sugar Hill was home to two of Florida’s first Black millionaires, businessman Abraham Lincoln Lewis and architect Joseph Blodgett. Author and civil rights activist James Weldon Johnson, the author of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a song considered to be the “Black national anthem,” was born in another, the LaVilla neighborhood. LaVilla was once known as the “Harlem of the South” during its heyday as Jacksonville’s jazz entertainment district. Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and other jazz greats performed along the main strip from the 1920s through the ’60s.
Yollie does a fantastic job reconnecting the city’s historic bones by urging her guests to take “mental snapshots” and use their imagination to envision what once was. She is optimistic that in time more people will know this history, more markers will be added to commemorate the past and we will all learn to be kinder to our past.