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The History of Juneteenth, and How to Celebrate It in California

The History of Juneteenth, and How to Celebrate It in California

What Is Juneteenth?: Read on to learn the brief history of this U.S. holiday's significance and where to celebrate Juneteenth this year.


5 min read

June 18, 2021

When people think of a day for independence in the United States, they generally think of the Fourth of July—a day filled with fireworks, cookouts, and people decked out in red, white, and blue to celebrate when the thirteen colonies were finally free from British rule. 

I used to attend these celebrations when I was little, until I realized that during the time that the British-American colonizers were celebrating their independence, my ancestors were enslaved and denied their rights to liberty, freedom, and justice. As Frederick Douglass once famously asked in 1852, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" So, Juneteenth is the Independence and Freedom Day for African Americans—those of us who descend from the enslaved.

What Is Juneteenth?: A Brief History of Its Significance

This year, how will you be celebrating such a memorable day, Juneteenth?

Juneteenth, a portmanteau of June and nineteenth, is a significant, historic holiday that celebrates the emancipation of enslaved Africans in the U.S.

Though President Abraham Lincoln historically issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863—the momentous day in which chattel slavery was outlawed in the Confederate states—enslaved peoples weren’t free instantly. Enslavers didn’t free the people they enslaved unless forced to do so. So, enforcement of the proclamation relied on the presence of Union troops in states that were still practicing slavery.

Unfortunately, Texas was one state that had a large enslaved population, but little Union presence. This only encouraged more enslavers to congregate in Texas. But, following the end of the Civil War—due to the surrender of General Robert E. Lee on April 9, 1865—General Gordon Granger arrived with his regiment in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865. He issued that in accordance with the proclamation from the United States, all enslaved people must be freed. However, General Granger still advised the newly freed Black people to remain silently at their enslavers’ homes and stated that their dynamic had shifted to that of employer and hired labor.

Though the newly freed people were not given reparations or resources, and slavery essentially morphed into sharecropping, General Granger’s arrival signified freedom for 250,000 enslaved peoples in Texas. The emancipation inspired Juneteenth celebrations amongst newly freed Black people. That December, due to the ratification of the 13th Amendment, slavery was formally abolished in all states.

The Historical Significance of Juneteenth in California

In 1849, California requested to enter the Union as a free state. Even though California stated that slavery wouldn’t be recognized in the founding constitution, that was no longer the case after many enslavers migrated to California. For example, one could easily find newspaper ads in San Francisco and Sacramento advertising the selling of enslaved people or offering rewards for the capture of enslaved escapees. 

Given this, it’s quite significant that California recognized Juneteenth in 2003. During the Great Migration—the relocation of more than six million African Americans from the South to Midwestern, Northern, and Western cities during 1916-1970—Black people came to cities like Oakland, Los Angeles, and Bakersfield, bringing their celebrations of Juneteenth with them. The San Francisco Bay Area County of Santa Clara was the first county in California to declare Juneteenth as an official holiday.

Wondering where to celebrate Juneteenth this year? Check out these activities in California!

Juneteenth Activities and Celebrations in California


This year, show how proud you are of our country’s emancipation of enslaved African Americans, and actively take part in the 2021 Juneteenth activities and celebrations in California

Juneteenth Celebrations in San Diego

What: North San Diego County NAACP Juneteenth Celebration 2021

Where: North Ditmar Street and Pier View Way, Oceanside

When: June 2021 (Dates Unconfirmed)

This Juneteenth celebration is hosted by the North San Diego County NAACP. Families and local community organizations come together in downtown Oceanside, California for a day of live music entertainment, basketball, tasty BBQ, a job fair, and other fun activities.

Juneteenth Activities in Los Angeles

What: Juneteenth Fest - An Outdoor Event

Where: Community Actors Theatre, 2957 54th Street, San Diego

When: Saturday, June 19, 2021, from 10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

The Community Actors Theatre is hosting their first outdoor Juneteenth festival, featuring poetry, comedy, musicians, and over a dozen vendors. Let the good times roll!

Music, dancing, lectures, and much more await you during the Los Angeles Juneteenth celebrations.

Juneteenth Activities in Los Angeles

What: CCEI Juneteenth Celebration

Where: California Lutheran University, 60 West Olsen Road, Thousand Oaks

When: Friday, June 18, 2021, from 11:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.

If you’re a member of the California Lutheran University community, you definitely want to attend their Juneteenth celebration, held on campus at Kingsmen Park. Get excited for a night dedicated to trivia, a food truck, music from Motown, and a spoken word artist.

What: Juneteenth Joy Virtual Celebration

Where: Online

When: Saturday, June 19, 2021, from 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

The Los Angeles Public Library’s Teen’Scape department, Black Being, and DJ pastelShade invite teens and their families to a virtual, musical celebration for Juneteenth. This event will inspire dancing, honor our ancestors, and celebrate Black liberation and resilience. You will need to RSVP to this event. 

The San Francisco City Hall turns red, green, and black in honor of the Juneteenth holiday.

Juneteenth Celebrations in San Francisco

What: Juneteenth Festival

Where: Geary Boulevard & Fillmore Street, San Francisco, CA 94115

When: Tuesday, June 11, 2021

Join AAA in celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation and African American heritage for their Juneteenth festival. A parade, pony rides, a petting zoo, health fair, and a classic car and motorcycle show await you.

What: NAACP Oakland Presents “BLACK FAMILY WEEKEND 2021- JUNETEENTH Family Cookout”

Where: Temescal Regional Recreation Area

6502 Broadway Terrace, Oakland, United States

When: Saturday, June 19, 2021, from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm

The NAACP in Oakland is hosting a Juneteenth family cookout, and it’s as delicious as it sounds! Get ready to pile your plate high as you spend time with the ones you love.

These are just some of the many Juneteenth celebrations that California has to offer. Though enslaved African Americans were legally emancipated in 1865, we, Black people, still have a long way to go before we can experience true freedom, equity, and justice in the United States. Therefore, it’s integral that people support Black-owned businesses, learn about historically Black neighborhoods, and fight against racial oppression in every sphere of our lives. Juneteenth signifies freedom and independence for all, especially the most vulnerable. While there are so many global atrocities that we have little control over, we can start contributing to positive change right here in California.

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