Several hundred people turned out Saturday at the Downtown City Park in Paso Robles to celebrate Juneteenth. The event celebrates the date June 19, 1865, when US Army General Gordon Granger informed slaves in Galveston, Texas that they were free.
The Civil War had ended two months prior and the Emancipation Proclamation was passed by Congress two years earlier. About 250,000 slaves in Texas were freed after General Granger’s announcement. The slaves celebrated their emancipation, and they repeated the celebration on that date in following years. That celebration grew and spread to other regions. It evolved from Emancipation Day to the colloquial name, Juneteenth. Parts of Texas have celebrated the emancipation of slaves for over 150 years. The Cities of Sacramento and Portland have held Juneteenth celebrations for the past 50 years. Last year, Congress voted to make Juneteenth the 12th Federal Holiday. President Joe Biden signed that legislation into law June 17, 2021.
At the outset of the celebration Saturday in Paso Robles, a group of local youth shared the history of the date. Then, a number of people spoke including Paso Robles Mayor Steve Martin. He read a proclamation, and encouraged the crowd to yell “Whereas” whenever the word came up in the document, which was often. A number of local leaders in the local black community spoke. There were also several musical performances.
San Luis Obispo Mayor Erica Stewart delivered the keynote address. She said she was the first black Cal Poly ASB President, the first black Cal Poly Alumni Association President, and now she’s the first black mayor in San Luis Obispo County history. She says, “We need to move past being ‘the first’ in all these things. We need people to be the 4th and 5th to be elected or appointed to these positions. Moving forward, our future includes leading our county.”
Jackie’s Soul Food from San Jose sold dinners with fried chicken, ribs, and fish with collared greens and macaroni and cheese as side dishes. The weather cooperated. The sun came out, but a nice breeze cooled the shaded Downtown City Park for the Juneteenth Celebration.