White models used to promote SC Juneteenth holiday sparks outrage

How could this be all white?

Organizers of a South Carolina town’s Juneteenth events have issued a groveling apology for advertising the holiday marking the emancipation of black slaves with a banner showing only a white couple.

The seemingly color-blind promos for Juneteenth GVL’s June “mega fest” went viral soon after they were put up across Greenville — sparking outrage and even calls for a boycott.

“You want to celebrate the depth of black culture on Juneteenth by putting white [people] as the face of it?” one outraged critic tweeted the organizers.

“How were you not aware how problematic that is?”

“This is how Black History gets completely distorted, repackaged, to be palatable for white Americans,” another critic wrote.

The banners, featuring a smiling white man and white woman, sparked outrage and calls for a boycott.
Juneteenth GVL Inc.

“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.”

One Greenville local even suggested it was part of a general trend that “has erased everything else Black in my hometown.”

“Gentrifying Juneteenth is bold!” they wrote, calling it “Disgraceful.”

One of the banners hanging in Greenville.
“Gentrifying Juneteenth is bold!”one critic wrote of the prominent banners.
FOX Carolina

Greenville activist Bruce Wilson — who has hosted other Juneteenth events — called for a boycott of the “mega fest.”

“I was appalled — I was saddened, I was angry,” the Fighting Injustice Together leader told FOX Carolina of seeing the banner only showing a smiling white man and woman.

“I’m the first to say that white America can celebrate Juneteenth, I just don’t think white America should be the face of Juneteenth,” he said.

Greenville activist Bruce Wilson talking to FOX Carolina.
Greenville activist Bruce Wilson called for a boycott, saying he was
“appalled,” “saddened” and “angry.”
FOX Carolina

The black business leaders making up Juneteenth GVL’s board initially defended the banner, saying it was one of 50 aimed at reflecting the diversity of the local community coming together.

“The images on the flag were very intentional,” co-founder Pete Lee told WYFF.

“We have been knocking at the door for so long to include us,” he said of the black community.

“Now that we have a seat at the table the last thing we want to do is what’s been done for years is to exclude.”

Founder and executive director Rueben Hays also told the outlet that the banner “was approved by myself, as well as my co-founders.”

“And we feel like they bring the right type of messaging of unity, freedom and love,” the Navy veteran said proudly.

Juneteenth GVL founder and executive director Reuben Hays.
Juneteenth GVL founder and executive direct or Reuben Hays, pictured, initially defended the banners.
Rueben Hays Jr./Facebook

However, he changed tune as the backlash mushroomed — releasing a groveling apology Thursday while promising to remove them all “as soon as possible.”

‘”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,” he said in a statement.

‘We take full responsibility for this misstep,” he wrote — while blaming “a slight oversight on one individual’s part” for the messaging he previously said he’d personally approved.

Juneteenth GVL's apology statement.
After initially defending the image, the executive director issued an apology and vow to quickly remove the offending banners.
Juneteenth GVL

“We sincerely apologize for any disappointment or frustration caused by this oversight,” he said. 

“Moving forward, we are committed to ensuring that our events fully the diversity, inclusivity, and historical significance of Juneteenth.”

Juneteenth, or June 19, commemorates the day in 1865 that Union troops began enforcing the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 in Galveston, Texas. President Biden made it the 12th federal holiday in June 2021.

Hays noted in an earlier interview — just days before the banner uproar — that the day is more than “a ‘black holiday.’”

“In order for this holiday to even come, half a million Americans had to die in the Civil War,” he told Greenville Online.

“There’s no denying that this is one the most significant holidays in our nation’s history. The most American holiday. 

“It’s just that it happened on the backs of African American slaves and some folks just don’t want to make that connection or association. 

“But that’s just the fact of the matter. I mean it is a very American holiday,” he said.

City officials were quick to distance themselves from the backlash.

“The city is not organizing or managing the event,” a rep told Fox.