SC Juneteenth event banner depicting white couple gets backlash. What to know

·2 min read
Jared Elrod/provided

A banner on Greenville’s Main Street depicting a smiling white couple advertising the upcoming Juneteenth celebration has caused heated debate between the people who used to organize the celebration and those staging it this year.

But the discord goes much deeper than that, with a cease and desist order being sent to the current organizers, to the Peace Center and the threat of a lawsuit if they don’t call it off by May 31.

Bruce Wilson, a community activist, said he was shut out of holding the Juneteenth celebration he has staged for two years when the Peace Center leadership decided to allow the other group to hold the event on their property. Last year, the other group’s celebration — its first — was at Falls Park.

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Reuben Hays, the founder and CEO of the other celebration known as Juneteenth GVL Mega Fest, said the national holiday doesn’t belong to one group and his group has a vision to broaden the celebration to promote healing in a divided community.

Juneteenth has been a federal holiday since 2021 and commemorates the freeing of enslaved Black Americans after the Civil War.

Hays said showing the white couple was by design to signify it is an event for everyone. The banner is one of 10 designs posted throughout the downtown area, he said. The others show Black, Asian and Hispanic residents.

“We did not want to make this exclusively Black,” Hays said. “That is not in the spirit of unity.”

Hays said the idea for the banners came from his own board, all of whom are Black. They were not pressured by anyone, including the city, to include white people, he said.

The city does not approve designs for the banners that are hung from lampposts downtown, city spokesperson Beth Brotherton said.

Wilson, who runs Fighting Injustice Together, said he believes the event is being “whitewashed.” He perceived the celebration as being one in which Black youths would be welcomed in downtown Greenville for a free event, including food and a concert. He said he learned about a month ago that his organization would not be able to use the Peace Center.

Juneteenth Mega Fest is a week-long event featuring food, family and wellness events, concerts, seminars and art exhibits, beginning June 17. A gala is planned for the night before at the Greenville Convention Center.