Groups commemorating the Buffalo Soldiers, the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II, George Washington Carver, and other Black Americans who made substantial contributions to the history of the United States participated Saturday, June 21, in Santa Monica’s celebration of Juneteenth, the observance 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 the Emancipation Proclamation (September 22, 1862) or of its official effective date (January 1, 1863), but rather the uncertain date in 1865 when slaves in Texas finally received news of their freedom. Slave owners and others who controlled news dissemination on the plantations did not exactly “reach out” (as they say today) to spread the word of emancipation when first it was proclaimed. The Juneteenth observance has spread from its Texas beginnings to become more nationally known over the years.
In Santa Monica, the holiday was marked this year at Virginia Avenue Park with a 16th annual celebration themed “Chains to Changes” sponsored by the City and the Juneteenth Celebration Committee, Inc.
Activities included a keynote presentation by Robin Petgrave, Executive Director of Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum in Compton, a wide range of live entertainment on the canopied park lawn, a variety of food, ethnic clothing, jewelry, and arts, and museum-quality exhibits in the park’s Thelma Terry Building.
Emcee Clarence “Chazz” Ross presented, among others, rhythm and blues vocalist Deborah Rogokos, ambient band Driving Words, comedian and TV personality Annie McKnight, and tap dancer Thomas Scott, who will perform at a pre-Olympics ceremony in Beijing next month. The crowd enjoyed the combination drill team and choreographed tap dancing of the First and II High Praise Tap Dance Ensemble from Pacoima.Park director Betty Macias pronounced the event “very successful” as it drew a record crowd of approximately 500 people celebrating freedom, dignity, and community pride. “The City was happy to co-sponsor the event with the Juneteenth Celebration Committee headed by LaVerne Ross,” she said.