A cringeworthy banner for a Juneteenth celebration in South Carolina has gone viral for its strange decision to use white models for a Black holiday.
Nonprofit organization Juneteenth GVL Inc. has ruffled feathers for its banner advertising its three-day event in Greenville for Juneteenth, a holiday that celebrates African American emancipation from enslavement.
“An upstate celebration of freedom, unity & love,” the banner reads along with contact information and a photo of a white man and white woman smiling for the camera.
An image of the banner has since circulated on social media, garnering hundreds of thousands of views.
“I was appalled, I was saddened, I was angry,” Bruce Wilson, an activist with Greenville’s Fighting Injustice Together, told local outlet Fox Carolina.
Wilson, who has organized previous Juneteenth celebrations, told the outlet that the banner misrepresented what the holiday was about.
“We have to remember what Juneteenth is about, it’s about freedom, it’s about the freedom of slaves,” he said. “I just don’t think white America should be the face of Juneteenth, and I think that’s where the disconnect is.”
“It’s almost like they don’t have a whole large group of black people called the Gullah geechee community to represent,” a Twitter user commented, referencing a specific culture of African Americans of the coastal Carolinas.
“Juneteenth is being gentrified,” another user tweeted.
“This is how Black History gets completely distorted, repackaged, to be palatable for white Americans…and erased,” another Twitter user wrote. “This is 100% doing harm. This is 100% buying in to the idea we can't be whole on our own. Not even for one day.”
However, others disagreed and felt Juneteenth should be promoted as a diverse event.
“Juneteenth is a Nationally recognized holiday. It is just not meant for us! Everyone....black, brown, white, whomever should be able to reflect and recommit oneself to areas of diversity and inclusion on June 19 (and beyond),” Greenville resident Gina Glosson-Robinson wrote on Facebook. “We (African Americans) have fought so hard to be recognized and included in mainstream America...however when it finally does happen, we're so engaged in ‘Fight’ mode we don't know how to respond/celebrate.”
Another Greenville resident, Traci Fant, claimed dozens of banners had been set up around the city, implying that people only directed their negative comments to the image with the white couple.
Juneteenth GVL Inc. was co-founded by three Black men and has an all-Black board and team, according to the organization’s website. They began hosting Greenville’s annual Juneteenth event in 2022.
“Juneteenth GVL would like to offer an apology to the community for the presence of non-black faces being represented on two flags representing Juneteenth,” co-founder Rueben Hays posted on the organization’s Twitter and Facebook accounts Thursday afternoon. “We acknowledge this mistake having been made and will correct the error quickly.
“This error was an attempt at uniting all of Greenville and thereby a slight oversight on one individual’s part that prevented us from fully embracing the rich potential and celebrating the depth of the black culture through the message and meaning of Juneteenth.
“We take full responsibility for this misstep. Our dedicated team has worked tirelessly to curate remarkable Juneteenth experiences…and we anticipate a beautiful celebration that everyone will be pleased with and proud of.
“Moving forward, we are committed to ensuring that our events fully the diversity, inclusivity, and historical significance of Juneteenth.”
On Juneteenth GVL’s website, the organization claims its mission is to “unite all Americans to celebrate a common bond of freedom through recognition, education, and preservation of Juneteenth as a national holiday.”
Juneteenth GVL did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment Thursday.