Groups commemorating the Buffalo Soldiers, the Tuskegee Airmen, George Washington Carver, Booker T. Washington and other African Americans who made substantial contributions to the history of the United States participated in Juneteenth, the celebration of the historic Emancipation of those Americans from slavery, as seen from their own point of view.
The holiday marks not the date of Lincoln’s issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation (September 22, 1862) or of its official effective date (January 1, 1863), but rather the uncertain date on which those most affected learned the news. The slave owners and others who controlled news dissemination on the plantations did not exactly try to spread the word of Emancipation when it was first proclaimed.
In Santa Monica, the holiday was held on June 16 at Virginia Avenue Park with a celebration themed “Flight After Freedom,” sponsored by the City and the Juneteenth Celebration Committee, Inc. (JCCI). Committee founder and CEO Laverne Ross said that, in keeping with the theme, “We are showcasing former innovators and future explorers through diverse activities planned for your enjoyment.”
Those activities included helicopter flyovers and youth aviator appearances from Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum in Compton and a wide range of live entertainment on the canopied park lawn, martial arts demonstrations in the Park Center fitness room and museum-quality exhibits in the park’s Thelma Terry Building.
Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, originated in Galveston, Texas, to commemorate June 19, 1865, the day Union General Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops arrived on Galveston Island to take possession of the state and enforce emancipation of its slaves. Today it is recognized in several states, including California, where Gov. Schwarzenegger proclaimed June 19 as “Juneteenth” in 2005.
In Santa Monica, however, the holiday has been publicly recognized for 14 years, making Saturday’s Virginia Avenue Park celebration the City’s 15th Annual.
City Manager Lamont Ewell, who was there for the event, commented that it was a “142-year celebration,” saying that he learned of it from his Arkansas family when he was a child.