Although this was the first official event hosted by the city, the history of Juneteenth goes all the way back to 1865. After President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, calling for the end of slavery in the United States, many people remained enslaved until the war’s end due to the lack of Union soldiers who could enforce the Executive Order. It was on June 19, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, that Union soldiers led by Major General Gordon Granger landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free.
Today, Juneteenth is observed by people throughout the United States and beyond. Not only does the holiday commemorate African American freedom, but it also emphasizes education and achievement and is marked with celebrations, guest speakers, picnics, and family gatherings. According to the official Juneteenth site, the holiday “is a time for reflection and rejoicing…for assessment, self-improvement and for planning the future.”
Juneteenth celebrations range from cooking traditional foods to hosting family gatherings. In recent years, Juneteenth celebrations have expanded to community-wide events like parades and festivals featuring music, art and educational presentations led by Black creators.
Like many other celebrations taking place across the country, the City of Irvine’s Juneteenth Freedom Celebration involved a variety of interactive activities, exhibits, local organizations and live performances. The free event was open to the public, and it allowed Black individuals and organizations to showcase their culture and raise awareness for community issues. For non-BIPOC, this was an opportunity to commemorate Black independence by learning about Black history and supporting local businesses.
The event kicked off with an introduction from DJ Mal-Ski and event host Kayla Thomas, followed by a performance of the Black National Anthem sung by Cedrice, an R&B/Soul artist from San Diego, Calif. After remarks from Douglas Haynes, Vice Chancellor of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, and Mayor Farah Khan, attendees could enjoy the lineup of live presenters and musicians scheduled to take the stage.
Among the live performers were acclaimed poet Sekou Andrews, minister David Daughtry and emerging singer Mus Iazy (known professionally as iazY).
In addition to the live entertainment, attendees could also browse the BIPOC marketplace where BIPOC-owned businesses were selling their products and the selection of art exhibits and activities sponsored by local organizations and Irvine’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee.
One exhibit, the UCI Libraries Special Collections and Archives, displayed several collections of historical artifacts and documentation, including abolitionist newsletters from the 1930s, petitions against segregation and flyers depicting Malcolm X.
“We selected materials to document not only the history of Black liberation, the Civil Rights Movement, but also the history of Black culture, Black students at UC Irvine and arts and culture,” said Outreach and Public Services Librarian Derek Christian Quezada.
Pointing to one table lined with political pamphlets, journals and protest posters, Quezada explains how all of the documents are arranged in chronological order and relate to prominent social movements.
“All of this material is from our political literature collection,” Quezada said. “The pol lit collection documents 20th century Civil Rights countercultural movements in the United States. Not only Civil Rights, but also Black consciousness, Black activism.”
Another section of the UCI Libraries Special Collections and Archives exhibit focused on the Black Panther political party.
“Here we have some publications from the 60s and 70s — newsletters, posters,” Public Service Library Assistant Hanako Redrick said. “My favorite out of the collection is the Angela Davis photographs, and I think the telegrams and the letters that we got…it’s really interesting to see the parallel between today’s language and what they were saying [in the mid to late 1900s].”
Among the many collections within the exhibit are documents that span centuries of our country’s history. Each piece tells a story from the perspective of Black writers, activists, and civil rights leaders. Although most of the work featured remains in archives during the year, anyone from the public is able to request to see the archives at the UCI libraries.
Juneteenth reminds us not only of the significance of Black independence, but also of our country’s commitment to preserving and celebrating Black culture. In the months following Juneteenth, it is essential that people continue to learn about and explore Black history and achievements.