Juneteenth officially became a federal holiday in 2021 when President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law. Even before that national proclamation, Juneteenth had been recognized as a holiday in California.
California Black Media spoke with Ronald Preston Clark, a writer and educator in San Diego. He shared his perspective on the holiday and how, even though he grew up in a family connected to Black culture, he did not really appreciate the full significance of the Juneteenth until he was a student at Hampton University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in Virginia.
“I didn’t start to look into celebrating it until being surrounded by the excellence at Hampton. As I’ve gotten older, and further into my teaching career, I have been more intentional with my celebration and understanding of Juneteenth. I am now sure to educate others on its significance,” he said.
Clark is not alone in his experience. For many Americans – including some Black Americans — Juneteenth was not celebrated in their families or taught in schools. It wasn’t until activists and historians led grassroots movements for decades that the holiday became more widely recognized.
While Clark says he is happy to celebrate Juneteenth with his family and to see the holiday gain national recognition, he doesn’t want it to turn into a commercialized event like other cultural holidays.
“We should always remember that the reason for the holiday is that our ancestors were set free – two years after they should have already been free. And then the years that followed were still filled with violence, hatred and bigotry towards us.”
History of Juneteenth
Juneteenth marks the anniversary of June 19th, 1865, when enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, were notified by Union soldiers that they were free under the Emancipation Proclamation.
Two and a half years earlier, on December 31st, 1862, enslaved and free African Americans gathered in churches and private homes across the country to celebrate what was known as “Freedom’s Eve.”
They were anticipating news that President Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation that ended slavery in Confederate States had become official on January 1,1863.
However, not everyone in Confederate territory would immediately be free. Even though the Emancipation Proclamation took effect in 1863, it could not be implemented in some places in the Deep South still under Confederate control.
As a result, in Texas, the westernmost Confederate state, enslaved people would not be free until approximately 2,000 Union troops led by Major Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston Bay on June 19, 1865. and announced that the more than 250,000 enslaved black people in the state were free by executive decree.
Last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a proclamation commemorating Juneteenth in California.
“This Juneteenth, I urge all Californians to reflect on the ongoing cause of freedom for Black Americans remembering that, though General Granger’s announcement in 1865 called for “absolute equality,” that vision was, and remains, far from complete.”
Here is a snapshot of some Juneteenth 2023 celebrations taking place around the state:
The organization is encouraging women around the state to organize a local walk in their neighborhoods on June 17, wear blue and amplify their activities online with pin drops, a printable digital poster, and the hashtags #GirlTrek and #WelcomeWalks.
LEIMERT PARK JUNETEENTH FESTIVAL (JUNE 19)
4395 Leimert Blvd., Los Angeles 90008
Monday, June 19 – Noon to 9 p.m.
The Leimert Park Juneteenth Festival will feature 300-plus Black-owned businesses, three main stages, two DJs stages, a spoken word stage and more.
You can find a complete list of Juneteenth events in the Los Angeles area here.
Sunday, June 18 – 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Juneteenth-in-Berkeley, held annually in June on Father’s Day, is produced by Berkeley Juneteenth Association, Inc., a non-profit, serving the community since 1986. They rebranded as Berkeley Juneteenth Cultural Celebrations to pursue and sponsor more cultural events throughout the year.
You can find more Bay area Juneteenth events here.
SACRAMENTO JUNETEENTH FESTIVAL 2022
William Land Park
Friday, June 16 – 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Saturday, June 17 – 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Sacramento’s 20th Annual Juneteenth Festival will kick off on Friday Night with a “Gospel Under the Stars Concert” featuring two stages of live entertainment. On Saturday, there will be a parade, talent show, Black history exhibits, food vendors and more.
You can find more Sacramento Juneteenth events here.
Black Biz Flea Market: Juneteenth Celebration
WorldBeat Cultural Center, 2100 Park Boulevard, San Diego, United States
Sunday, June 18 – 12 noon to 5 p.m.
The Black Biz Flea Market Juneteenth Celebration! will feature 30-plus Black-owned businesses, great eats, music, shopping, giveaways and more.
You can find more San Diego Juneteenth events here.
2023 JUNETEENTH CELEBRATION OF FREEDOM
Civic Center Amphitheater, 14075 Frederick Street, Moreno Valley
Saturday, June 17 – 1 to 5 p.m.
The community is invited to celebrate an afternoon full of entertainment, children’s activities, food booths, retail vendors (jewelry, clothing, and art) and local artists.
2023 LET FREEDOM RING East Contra Costa County JUNETEENTH CELEBRATION
Contra Costa Event Park 1201 W. 10th Street, Antioch
Saturday and Sunday, June 17-19 12 Noon to 5 p.m.
This event will feature carnival rides, food, craft & arts, a job fair, community resources and live entertainment.