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American Canyon introduces Juneteenth celebration to Napa County

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Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S., has found its largest showcase yet in Napa County.

With gospel singing, dancing and proclamations, the city of American Canyon on Sunday welcomed spectators to its inaugural Juneteenth celebration, believed to be the county’s first large-scale event marking a holiday that gained federal recognition last year. The gathering at Main Street Park, co-organized with the American Canyon Arts Foundation, took place on the 157th anniversary of the proclamation in Galveston, Texas that enslaved people had been freed throughout the South.

Speakers at the American Canyon festival included organizer Brenda Knight, Mayor Leon Garcia, and Ben Anderson, the city’s first Black mayor, an advocate of the city’s incorporation in 1992 and an original member of its city council.

Sunday’s festivities in Napa, Vallejo, Santa Rosa, San Francisco and nationwide marked the second year of federal recognition for Juneteenth, which Black people have celebrated for generations to mark the end of slavery in the U.S. in 1865 at the end of the Civil War.

On June 17, 2019 – two days before Juneteenth – President Biden signed a bill that had been passed by Congress to set aside the occasion, June 19, as a federal holiday. “I hope this is the beginning of a change in the way we deal with one another,” he said.

A merging of “June” and “nineteenth,” the name of the holiday refers to a celebration that began with freed slaves in Galveston, Texas. While the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves in the South in 1863, it could not be enforced in many places until after the end of the Civil War in 1865.

Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger and his troops arrived at Galveston on June 19, 1865, with news that the war had ended and that those who were enslaved were now free. That was more than two months after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in Appomattox Court House, Virginia.

Granger delivered General Order No. 3, which said: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.”

The next year, the now-free people started celebrating Juneteenth in Galveston. Its observance has continued around the nation and the world since. Events include concerts, parades and readings of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Often celebrated at first with church picnics and speeches, the holiday spread across the nation and internationally as Black Texans moved elsewhere.

The vast majority of states recognize Juneteenth as a holiday or a day of recognition, like Flag Day, and most states hold celebrations. Juneteenth is a paid holiday for state employees in Texas, New York, Virginia and Washington, and hundreds of companies give workers a day off for Juneteenth.

The national reckoning over race helped set the stage for Juneteenth to become the first new federal holiday since 1983, when Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created.

A bill to give federal recognition to Juneteenth was sponsored by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and gained 60 co-sponsors. Bipartisan support emerged as lawmakers struggle to overcome divisions that grew following the May 2020 police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota.

“In 1776 the country was freed from the British, but the people were not all free,” Dee Evans, national director of communications of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, said in 2019. “June 19, 1865, was actually when the people and the entire country was actually free.”

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report. 


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