“It’s just a blessing,” Lena White said of Juneteenth after singing “A Change is Going to Come” at a celebration Saturday in Logan Heights.
“It feels wonderful to be acknowledged in the state of California, all over the world,” she said. “It feels great, so anywhere I go during a Juneteenth celebration even if I am not in San Diego, I know there is going to be a celebration with people who look more like me. . . . A change has come.”
San Diego County residents commemorated Juneteenth two days after President Joe Biden signed a bill making it a federal holiday.
The Rev. Richard White told a crowd, “We’ve come this far by faith. So today as we celebrate, we celebrate all of the tears, the sweat, the pain, the agony that our foreparents went through for us to get to where we are today. So we want to thank God.”
Following a prayer, White, the associate minister of Encanto Southern Baptist Church, said: “We thank you for putting it on my President Biden’s mind and heart to sign the bill. We thank you for the Senate to pass it overwhelmingly. And so we celebrate as we do.”
The event, hosted by the Cooper Family Foundation, at Logan Heights Memorial Park featured Brothers Igniting a Groove, African drum dances, arts, speakers and vendors.
In addition, health personnel offered screenings for blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol. Visitors also took advantage of COVID 19 vaccine distribution.
The celebrations occurred throughout the county — Palomar Mountain, Logan Heights, the Old Globe outdoor theater in Balboa Park, and a bike ride from Mission Bay to Chicano Park, National City, Chula Vista and Imperial Beach.
June 19, 1865, is the day when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced to more than 250,000 enslaved Blacks that they were free by executive decree.
On Friday, as part of an effort to celebrate the diversity of SanDiego’s residents, Mayor Todd Gloria was joined by Councilwomen Monica Montgomery Steppe and Marni von Wilpert, his Black Advisory Group, and members of the public to declare Juneteenth in the city.
“Juneteenth marks the day freedom was realized for Black slaves in this country,” Gloria said. “Though it was over 100 years ago, our Black community still wades through the traumatic effects of slavery and its residue of injustice.”
Around the United States, concerts, rallies, art displays and lots of food were among events planned for Juneteenth.
President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris signed a bill making Juneteenth the 11th federally recognized holiday, just over a year after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis ignited nationwide protests for racial justice and for ending police brutality.
“Juneteenth is a day of profound weight and profound power,” Biden tweeted on Saturday.
Andrea Johnson of Atlanta, watching a parade under rainy skies near the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, said: “This particular Juneteenth is special because last year we were in the George Floyd protests, and this year we received some resolution.”
Outside the church where Martin Luther King, Jr. preached and led protests for voting rights, equal access to public services, and social and economic justice, boisterous crowds cheered marching bands and their dancers, who competed with dramatic dips and twirls and were followed by Jeeps adorned with “Black Lives Matter” signs.
Many onlookers were joyful but some said declaring a national holiday might be a hollow victory for Blacks, many of whom still suffer racial injustice in the United States that can be remedied only through more substantial efforts by the federal government.
“There are mixed feelings for me,” said Jermaine Washington, a marching band director who lives in Stone Mountain, Georgia, just 20 miles northeast of Atlanta.
“Oftentimes we see these types of events as a win when it’s just pacification for the Black community instead of making sure there’s an equal education or equitable housing,” Washington said as he herded his young musicians at the Atlanta procession.
Stone Mountain, a tiny village that is holding its first ever Juneteenth celebration this year, stands in the shadow of a nine-story high bas-relief of Confederate figures carved into a sprawling rock face, the largest monument to the pro-slavery legacy of the U.S. South.
Atlanta and its metro area have been celebrating Juneteenth for years. Richard Rose, president of the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP, said this year’s designation of Juneteenth as a federal holiday resonates in the city often called the “cradle of the civil rights movement.”
“While we celebrate, what we have to remember is that we must fight for our rights – in the ballot box, in the schools. And we have to stand up, city-to-city, across this nation,” Rose said.
Across the country, many events will take place in-person, unlike last year, as the United States emerges from the coronavirus pandemic and more Americans get vaccinated.
Chicago’s “March For Us” has a mile-long route in the city’s business district known as the Loop.
“We celebrate Independence Day, so we would be remiss if we don’t celebrate the day that people who were worth three-fifths of the person finally became free and started this journey towards equality,” said “March for Us” organizer Ashley Munson.
Munson said that while strides have been made, recent incidents of police brutality toward Black people and legislation in several U.S. states that curtails voting rights show that much work still needs to be done.
Among events planned in New York City is “Juneteenth in Queens,” a week-long festival of virtual panel discussions set to conclude on Saturday with food trucks of jerk chicken and waffles, BBQ and more, as well as in-person live performances.
The initiative is spearheaded by Assemblymember Alicia Hyndman, who sponsored legislation last year that made Juneteenth a state holiday.
One of the events taking place in Colorado is a flyover to honor the legacy of aviation pioneer Bessie Coleman, who in 1921 became the first African-American woman to earn a pilot’s license
Deneen Smith, a 17-year-old Black high school student and aspiring pilot, is inspired by Coleman’s story.
“That’s what Juneteenth means to me – independence and freedom for African Americans because of what our ancestors struggled through,” Smith said.
Montgomery Steppe, the sole Black San Diego city council member, said: “As African Americans, we must preserve our culture and teach our history, including the true meaning of Juneteenth.”
City News Service and Reuters contributed to this report.