The Juneteenth Celebration of Ventura County has been hosting annual events since 1989. Past celebrations have included entertainment and education. Photos Courtesy of Juneteenth Celebration of Ventura County
For Julia Dixon, co-chair of the Juneteenth Celebration of Ventura County, June 19 is more than just a Saturday. She has dedicated the past decade to helping others understand the significance of the holiday.
“Juneteenth is a celebration of the end of slavery, and I appreciate everything my ancestors did so that we could move to this point,” Dixon said. “I want to continue that so that people moving forward—my grandkids, my family, my community—understand what the meaning of Juneteenth is.”
On June 19, 1865—more than 2½ years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation—Union Gen. Gordon Granger informed enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, that they were free. This announcement led to the first Juneteenth celebration.
Over the past 156 years, Black communities have celebrated the holiday with prayer and pilgrimages, family and food, parades and picnics. Until recently, however, the holiday was not well known beyond the Black community.
Yesterday, June 17, President Joe Biden signed legislation to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.
The Juneteenth Celebration of Ventura County organization hosts one of the county’s primary Juneteenth events each year.
This summer’s virtual celebration, which will stream live on Facebook and Zoom from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sat., June 19, will be entertaining and educational. It will feature the Buffalo Soldier Mounted Cavalry Unit and the Forgotten Images traveling museum with the goal of conveying the importance of the holiday.
For many—including Banea Sumpter, co-advisor for the Black Student Union at Moorpark College—Juneteenth is a time of joyful celebration and solemn remembrance.
“It is a time to celebrate African American culture and accomplishments in unity with like-minded people,” Sumpter said in an email. “It is also a time to remember and reflect on the long-awaited freedom of enslaved Africans and the extreme disadvantages experienced by Africans even in freedom.”
Juneteenth also reinforces racial memory and pride by serving as a reminder of African Americans’ contributions and strengths, wrote Mary Poitier, executive board member for the college’s Black Student Union.
“The world is changing, and it is important for everyone to know the truth about African American history,” Poitier said in an email.
The Juneteenth Celebration of Ventura County organization was created in 1989, and board member Donald Montgomery said the events were initially attended almost exclusively by African Americans.
Over the past three decades, he has seen more diversity in attendees as well as more financial support, especially since the Oxnard event moved from Community Center East Park to Plaza Park several years ago.
Community members credit two recent events to the increased attention surrounding the celebration.
The surge in advocacy following the murder of George Floyd last summer also raised awareness about the holiday on a national level.
Regina Hatcher-Crawford, president of the Ventura County chapter of the NAACP, said it is important that individuals understand that Juneteenth is not new in the United States.
“It’s sad that it took for a man to die for people to now have an interest in what we do,” said Hatcher-Crawford, who views Juneteenth as a symbol of her ancestors’ resilience and the progress of her community. “Just as anyone else, we have our own culture and we have our own history. Ours might be a little more tainted because of all the things we’ve had to go through, but we’ve always been here.”
Montgomery, who is also the president of the Community Advocacy Coalition of Ventura County, said former President Donald Trump’s rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last year inadvertently raised awareness about Juneteenth, as it was originally scheduled to occur on the holiday.
Those interviewed encouraged everyone to celebrate Juneteenth.
“We welcome everybody,” said Hatcher-Crawford, who believes the event is an opportunity for people to love one another. “We come from all different walks and shades of people, so we would never push away anybody from coming to any event that we have. We hope that if you do come, it’s more about learning about Black people and being inclusive of our culture.”
Gerald Richardson III, the outgoing president of the college’s Black Student Union, views June 19 as an opportunity for others to commit themselves to anti-racism.
“Juneteenth is a reminder that ‘nobody’s free until everybody’s free,’” Richardson III said in an email.
Juneteenth, Montgomery said, is not only a critical part of Black history, but also a critical aspect of American history—even when it is not taught in classrooms. He strives to keep this history alive while making all residents, especially those in marginalized communities, feel more united.
“That day was a major step forward in human rights, not just in Black liberation,” Montgomery said. “I think it’s important for all of us to support each other—to celebrate with each other—all of the progress that we have made.”
The enslavement and emancipation of African people has affected all aspects of the country, and Dixon said she recommends that people educate themselves about Juneteenth and discuss the topics with their families, including young children.
“It is a very important part of history, and you cannot take that away from any of us—it did exist, and we need to celebrate it as a holiday,” Dixon said. “You won’t find it in your history books.”
Montgomery said that, more than a recognition of past progress, Juneteenth is a call to action for the present and the future.
“Racism is still alive and doing well, and it’s going to take the people to change that,” he said. “It’s very easy to become complacent. People have to be reminded that, yes, we’ve come a long way, but we’ve got a ways to go.”