As people prepare to celebrate Juneteenth, it is appropriate to take a moment to understand the significance of this day to African Americans. Juneteenth is the oldest-known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers, led by Maj. Gen.Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas, with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. This was two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation which had become official Jan. 1, 1863.
But the Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops in place to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of Gen. Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.
From that day forward, former enslaved Blacks, particularly those in Texas, annually made a pilgrammage back to the state to celebrate their “freedom” on June 19.
The day became a time for reassuring each other, for praying and for gathering remaining family members.
A range of activities were provided to entertain the masses, many of which continue in tradition today. Rodeos, fishing, barbecuing and baseball are just a few of the typical Juneteenth activities you may witness today.
Juneteenth almost always focused on education and self improvement. Consequently, guest speakers were brought in, and the elders were called upon to recount the events of the past. Prayer services were also a major part of these celebrations.
Certain foods also became popular and subsequently synonymous with Juneteenth celebrations such as strawberry soda pop. More traditional and just as popular was the barbecuing, through which Juneteenth participants could share in the spirit and aromas that their ancestors —the newly emancipated African Americans—would have experienced during their ceremonies. Hence, the barbecue pit is often established as the center of attention at Juneteenth celebrations.
Following find a number of Juneteenth events to enjoy.
Guidance Church will host a fun-raising Juneteenth celebration from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. at 7225 Crenshaw Blvd., Los Angeles. Participants can bring a bag and collect a sack of books for just $1. For info, call (310) 753-5823.
A.C. Bilbrew Library will host a free Juneteenth celebration beginning at 1 p.m. and feature a storyteller, food, refreshments, and art activities. Author/educator Binnier Tate Wilkin will stop by as well. The library is located at 150 E. El Segundo Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 538-3350.
The 23rd Santa Monica Festival, the city’s largest such free event (organizers estimate 10,000 will attend) will be held at Clover Park, 2600 Ocean Park Blvd., from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. The festival will feature a special Juneteenth stage and section. The Juneteenth stage will offer gospel, blues and jazz performers, storytelling, and exhibits. Additionally, three other stages will offer cooking demonstrations, fitness workshops and more. Free parking, bike valet and access via a free ride on the Big Blue Bus route 8.
Black Women for Wellness will participate in the fifth annual Juneteenth Heritage Festival June 14 and 15 from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. in Leimert Park Village, at the corner of Degnan Boulevard and 43rd Street. The group will educate the community about Covered California, the state’s health insurance marketplace.
Educators will be available to inform residents about healthcare plans through Covered California, Special Enrollment and Medi-Cal.
Although open enrollment has ended, consumers who experience a qualifying life event can still enroll in a health insurance plan through Covered California. Qualifying life events include losing health coverage through a job, getting married or entering into a domestic partnership, having or adopting a child, changing where a person permanently lives or gaining citizenship. For a list of common types of qualifying events, visit www.CoveredCA.com.
Other activities at the festival include an opportunitied to ride horses with Lester Sims and the Cowboys of Color; groove to the sounds of Wadada and Al Threat and more live music; and on Sunday enjoy an old school KJLH Soul Train line. Arts and craft as well as food vendors will also be on hand. For aditional information, call (323) 412-0911 or visit www.blackartslosangeles.org.