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Thu, Jun 18, 2020

Helen Aldana

Helen Aldana - Coordinadora de Programas Interculturales

History of Juneteenth: Part 1

Until Black lives are free, no one is free.

When you envision freedom, what comes to mind? What do you feel? Who do you see?

Here in Santa Cruz County

Kids running around the park playing tag. Families sitting over a blanket enjoying their picnic. Dancers poetically moving across the grass. Hands up welcoming drum beats, melodies, and harmonies. The rise and fall of a spoken word artist’s cadence. The sweet and savory scent of home food ushering in everyone gathered at Laurel Park, the backyard of the Louden Nelson Community Center. This beautiful union of Black neighbors, fully and freely, is Juneteenth in the City of Santa Cruz and has been hosted here since 1991.

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Juneteenth is a celebration commemorating the ending of the enslavement of African Americans. It is a celebration of the struggle for freedom, existence, history, and future of enslaved African Americans. Juneteenth honors those who demanded freedom, those who gained freedom, and those who did not experience freedom.

Juneteenth is also a time where our Black neighbors remind us that it was not until 1865, 89 years after the first USA Independence Day, did the Black community begin celebrating their freedom. Depending on who you ask, the word “free” will be defined very simply or take us on a conscious journey that we may not have been aware existed – or believe that it could.

For this blog, free will be shared as the experience enslaved African Americans demanded for many years to have.

National History

When reading up on Juneteenth, many will learn about the start of 1863, because that year the Emancipation Proclamation, issued by Abraham Lincoln, was put into effect. It ordered that the over 3 million enslaved Black people in the 11 Confederate States, were now legally free. For reference: in 1860, approximately 89% of the Black population was enslaved in all of the USA – this includes the Northern Union states.

Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia got the news. Based on the behaviors of Texans still having masters and enslaved people, it seemed that they did not get the news, as some say. While others speak truths and say that Texas refused to acknowledge this executive order.

Another year that is mentioned is 1865 because it was not until that year that General Gordon Granger, along with thousands of his troops, stood on the balcony of the Ashton Villa of Galvenstone, TX and read General Order No. 3:

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer."

This happened on June 19th, 1865, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was put into effect.

There is much to highlight and recognize in this historical moment of defiance. One is recognizing that Texas had the responsibility to free slaves and chose not to for over two and a half years. It was not until the presence of 1800 troops and a demand from a General that the people of Texas made that change and forced to acknowledge the freedom of African Americans.

Another point worth noting is that Juneteenth came to be from a long history of African American uprisings – small and large – demanding their freedom and that of others. Freedom was not given by the government. It came from the organizing of Harriet Tubman, the work of abolitionists like Frederick Douglas, the stories of hope by freed slaves, and the continual pressure and demand for the government to live up to its own values. These were actions led by African Americans because of their desire to be free. Juneteenth came into existence because of them.

More is to come. Stay tuned for writing by Dr. Aaron Jones, Associate Director for Black Student Success of the African American Resource and Cultural Center at the University of California Santa Cruz.
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Juneteenth Events & Resources

As we come together virtually and in person, whichever feels safest to you, I encourage us to celebrate the many Black lives who have been struggling and rising up for the freedom of Black life. I encourage us to think about what celebrations are going on this weekend and who is leading them. Are they celebrating the freedom of Black and African Americans? Are they honoring Black lives who lost their lives due to violence accepted by the state?

Lastly, I encourage us to imagine a country where Juneteenth is recognized and celebrated on a national level. What comes to mind? What do you feel? Who do you see?

Sign the petition to make Juneteenth a National Holiday here.

Cover Image Information: Members of the Louden Nelson Memorial committee from 1953 are shown at Nelson’s grave in Evergreen Cemetery. From left to right are C.H. Brown, chairman of the memorial committee; Frank Guliford, president Santa Cruz Improvement Club; Rev. Dennis E. Franklin, NAACP; Rev. W. M. Brent, pastor, Santa Cruz Missionary Baptist Church; Herman Gowder, secretary, Memorial Committee; and Henry Pratt, president, F. & A. club.

[1] This quote is an altered version of a Fannie Lou Hamer (1917 - 1977) quote “No one is free, until we are all free.” Hamer was a community organizer, leader in the civil rights movement, and a voting and women's rights activist This quote is the anchor for this article and will be seen in many versions throughout this Juneteenth blog series.