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Multicultural Roots Project

The Multicultural Roots Project was created to increase visibility for Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) in Sonoma County, with a particular focus on Santa Rosa; and to recognize, through historical stories from BIPOC, contributions and impacts that have shaped Santa Rosa and Sonoma County. Working with local historians and community partners, Community Engagement staff gather stories and facts about local BIPOC leaders, as well as historical events and places that have shaped Santa Rosa and Sonoma County into what it is today. Each month, we will share five of these stories with the public through multiple communication channels, including the City’s website, social media and this newsletter.

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Jun 13

Juneteenth: Celebrating Freedom and Independence from Slavery in the U.S.

Posted on June 13, 2022 at 3:38 PM by Danielle Garduno

Web_Juneteenth

Juneteenth, the oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, is observed and celebrated across the United States each year on June 19. Although President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, it had little impact in Confederate states due to the low number of Union troops enforcing the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April 1865, Union forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance. On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers led by Major General Gordon Granger landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and slaves were now free.  

This day was immediately coined as “Juneteenth” as news of the war’s end ranged from pure shock to jubilation across America. When former slaves heard of their newfound freedom, many left their plantations and found new homes in various parts of the United States. Former slaves sought to reunify their families, establish schools, run for political office, advocate for legislation, and sue slaveholders for financial compensation. However, with these new achievements came new challenges for Black Americans. Many former slaves still experienced racial discrimination, intimidation, and violence at the hands of white community members, creating feelings of fear and unwelcomeness in their new homes and communities. Nevertheless, their tenacity, resiliency, and persistence allowed them to overcome the odds, building robust economies, communities, and institutions. They also celebrated their freedom, marking the beginning of the Juneteenth tradition. 

The first public Juneteenth celebration took place in 1866. Since then, Juneteenth has been a time for reassurance and unity, with many former slaves and descendants making the annual pilgrimage back to Galveston on this day.  According to Dr. Melvin Banks of Dallas Bishop College, “the earliest Juneteenth celebrations were occasions for political rallying where newly freed [enslaved people] received voting instructions.”

While Juneteenth has been observed every year since in communities across the country, the day of celebration only became a federally recognized holiday last year when Congress passed legislation. The bill was later signed into law by President Joe Biden, to recognize Juneteenth National Independence Day. The national holiday commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans and celebrates African American culture.

Juneteenth: Our History is Our Strength 

For over 50 years, community members in Santa Rosa and Sonoma County have observed and celebrated Juneteenth through the annual MLK Juneteenth Community Festival. The first Juneteenth celebration in Santa Rosa took place in 1954, at the home of Mrs. Marteal “Mother” Perry. Mrs. Perry educated the community on the history of slavery and African American people, as well as the significance of Juneteenth. Students from Sonoma State University and Santa Rosa Junior College were also holding events to celebrate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during that time. In 1970, the Juneteenth event was changed to the MLK Juneteenth Community Festival to honor the triumphs of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and to continue the tradition of celebrating Juneteenth.

This year, in keeping the spirit of Juneteenth alive, the 52nd Annual MLK Juneteenth Community Festival: Our History is Our Strength will take place on Saturday, June 18, 2022, at Martin Luther King, Jr. Park in the South Park neighborhood. This community festival is free and open to community members of all ages. This year’s event is dedicated to Sonoma County activist Vince Harper and will feature a memorial walk led by the Hub Bub Ensemble from Julliard Park to MLK Park in Vince’s honor. The event will also feature performances by Phat Luv and Remain in Light, and activities including a basketball tournament, dominoes games, kids’ activities, Zumba, spoken word and more.

This year’s MLK Juneteenth Community Festival is sponsored by organizations such as the Red Rose Catering, North Bay Black Chamber of Commerce, Safe Harbor, Sonoma County Black Coalition, Sonoma County Black Forum, the Santa Rosa-Sonoma County Branch of the NAACP, 100 Black Men of Sonoma County, Petaluma Blacks for Community Development, Nuestra Comunidad, Women’s Spaces, Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow, the City of Santa Rosa’s Office of Community Engagement, and the County of Sonoma.

As we continue living in unprecedented times, the historical legacy of Juneteenth shows the value of never giving up hope and encourages people of all ages to remember our collective history. We invite the Santa Rosa and Sonoma County communities to celebrate this day with us and continue our fight for racial equity.  

References:

CNN: Congress passes bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday

CNN: Juneteenth becomes a federal holiday

Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Juneteenth observances started in Galveston in 1865

Multicultural Roots Project: Marteal “Mother” Perry

Sonoma County MLK Juneteenth

The Root: This is Why Juneteenth is Important for America

This story was researched and written by Danielle Garduño, Community Engagement Program Manager with the City of Santa Rosa Office of Community Engagement.