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Juneteenth Festival Blends History, Cultural Heritage

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Although Stephen and Mika Williamson admitted to learning about Juneteenth only recently, the Agoura couple attended Saturday’s celebration at Hansen Dam Park in Lake View Terrace to begin the cultural education of their two young children.

“I want to try to teach my kids more African American history than my parents did to me,” said Stephen Williamson, holding his 18-month-old daughter, Stephanie.

His 2-year-old son, Tyler, giggled and tumbled between his mother’s legs.

“It wasn’t that my parents had any ill will, but they just did not know,” Williamson said. “But I think, as our generation gets older and more aware, the truth is coming out more and more.”

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The Williamsons were among about 100 Juneteenth Festival supporters who traveled from as far as Ontario and Long Beach to listen to soul, jazz and gospel music, browse the booths of African jewelry and clothing, and eat shaved ice, barbecued chicken and other foods.

The holiday commemorates a little-known twist in American history. Although President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, freedom did not come to all slaves until more than two years later. The news reached Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers led by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger proclaimed sovereignty of the United States over Texas and the freedom of all slaves.

The reasons for the delay are uncertain. Some myths say a messenger was killed on his way to Texas; others say that the news was deliberately withheld by slave masters to maintain the labor force on plantations. Still others contend that federal troops waited for the harvest of another cotton crop before going to Texas to enforce the proclamation.

Freedom festivities have been organized around the country ever since. Juneteenth became an official holiday in Texas in 1980.

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“I came to pay tribute to the slaves,” said Darcelle Herring from Long Beach. “And I love to see the beauty in my people.”


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