The Fresno branch of the Gospel Choir of America performed on Juneteenth.

Juneteenth, a Celebration to Freedom

Boutique owner Edwina Chong (center) shows off an African-themed necklace at the Juneteenth event at the Convention Center in Fresno on June 18.

On June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday. A memorable act, given the highly separated American society we currently live in. The long sought-after bill received bipartisan support in both houses of government.

Contrary to mainstream beliefs, Juneteenth celebrations are not new. African Americans and others have been celebrating Juneteenth since 1866. The event signifies the end of slavery in Confederate states with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation order in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln.

On June 19, 1865, nearly two and a half years after President Lincoln signed the order, Union General Gordon Granger and his troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, and read the official announcement stating that all enslaved people are free by decree from the President of the United States.

Over the years, Juneteenth has been recognized by many names: Jubilee Day, Freedom Day, Liberation Day and Emancipation Day.

Today, Juneteenth is an international holiday, celebrated in countries outside the United States. In particular, the Mexican state of Coahuila celebrates the event as part of its history. This is significant given that the region became home to nearly 10,000 escaped slaves between 1830 and 1865.

Fresno Juneteenth Committee members: (L-R) Viva Straughter, DonPreyel Martin, Valette Farwell and Janice Sumler.

Mexico abolished slavery in 1831, some 30 years before the United States, providing an escapable destination for slaves seeking freedom. The escape route through Texas into Mexico was the third and lesser known “Underground Railroad” path to freedom.

Locally, Fresnans have continuously celebrated Juneteenth since 1978. The celebration has grown from a single-day event housed at the Cecil Hinton Center and Kearney Park to a five-day event that utilizes venues throughout the city.

With the support of numerous local agencies and entities, the 2022 event included the African American Museum, Fresno City Hall and the Valdez Hall at the Convention Center. Attendees were exposed to a plethora of community vendors providing information, goods and refreshments; entertainment that included speakers, dancers, music and a fashion show; and education provided by the Buffalo Soldiers.

The Fresno Juneteenth Committee, chaired by Janice Sumler, is to be commended for the event they created. The mix of history, tradition, education, the arts and the community were a great representation of the entire Fresno community. Other members of the Juneteenth Committee are Valette Farwell, Viva Straughter and DonPreyel Martin. And special appreciation to Fresno City Council Member Miguel Arias, Assistant City Manager Gregory Barfield and Fresno Board of Education Trustee Kimberly Tapscott-Munson.

The Juneteenth Holiday is designated for June 19 every year, although many areas will continue to hold celebrations on the third full weekend of June.

  • Daren A. Miller, Ed.D., is a local educator and community advocate with more than 30 years of educational and civic service to the Fresno metropolitan area.

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