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Orange County Celebrates Juneteenth

After President Biden signed new legislation this month making Juneteenth (June 19) a federal holiday, several celebrations took place throughout Orange County.

Juneteenth (also called Jubilee Day, Black Independence Day, and Emancipation Day) commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. Originating in Galveston, Texas, it has been celebrated annually on June 19 in various parts of the United States since 1866.

This year on June 19, celebrations took place in Santa Ana, Anaheim, and Costa Mesa.

District 4 OC Supervisor Doug Chaffee hosted a Juneteenth Celebration at Anaheim Community Center Park featuring games, live music, booths, and free COVID-19 vaccinations.

Julie Bennett, Karen Robinson, Lolia Washington, and Wellington Bennett at a Juneteenth Celebration in Anaheim. Photo by Gaston Castellanos.

“This is not the first time Juneteenth has been held in the county of Orange,” Chaffee’s chief of staff LaShe Rodriguez said to the crowd gathered on the sunny June afternoon. “There’s a long history of African American communities and families who lived here in Orange County who have celebrated it. It’s with their blessing and their support that we put this event on today. And it’s just so nice for everybody to come together, especially after being in the pandemic.”

Speakers at the event included notable Black elected officials and leaders in Orange County, including Fullerton Joint Union High School Board Trustee Vicki Calhoun, Tustin Mayor Leticia Clark, Tammy Tumbling from the Orange County Community Foundation, and Bobby McDonald, President of Orange County Black Chamber of Commerce.

Tustin Mayor Letitia Clark addresses the crowd. Photo by Gaston Castellanos.

“As one of the few Black elected officials in Orange County, I always feel proud that we are making progress,” Leticia Clark said. “There’s a strong history of Black people here in Orange County. My grandparents came here when they were 18-19 years old, my dad was born here, I was born here…Together we’re going to keep this County moving forward, and there’s so much work to be done.”

Bobby McDonald, whose father and uncles were Buffalo Soldiers in World War II, was clad in an 1877 Buffalo Soldier outfit. He gave a historical presentation and a re-enactment of the reading of General Order Number 3.

Bobby McDonald dressed in a Buffalo Soldier uniform tells the history of Juneteenth. Photo by Gaston Castellanos.

Following this was a musical performance by Motherland Music.

Motherland Music performs at Juneteenth Celebration in Anaheim. Photo by Gaston Castellanos.

Kids dance to the music at Juneteenth Celebration in Anaheim. Photo by Gaston Castellanos.

Just down the street a Juneteenth Day of Action, organized by the group OC Protests, took place at La Palma Park. The focus of this event was to highlight the forces that remain in American society that restrict Black freedom, such as mass incarceration and police violence.

“We’re here to not only celebrate Juneteenth, but also to talk about what we need to be doing to move forward to end mass incarceration…and stand in solidarity with community members who’ve been incarcerated, who’ve been impacted by police violence,” Zoe-Raven Wianecki, co-founder of OC Protests, said. “We are moving forward. We are continuing this fight. It’s definitely not over.”

Artwork at Juneteenth Day of Action at La Palma Park in Anaheim commemorates those killed by police. Photo by Jesse La Tour.

Also featured at this event was an art exhibit commemorating those killed by police. All the work was created and donated by local Orange County residents.

There were tables set up featuring free food donated by community members for those in need. During the event, some people experiencing homelessness were given free food. Part of the focus of OC Protests is a concept called Mutual Aid, in which community members seek to meet the material needs of their neighbors.

Wianecki noted the importance of gatherings like this, especially given the historic lack of African American representation in Orange County.

“There are few Black spaces in Orange County,” she said. “For me it’s important, as often as I can, to collectively gather the Black members of OC together to celebrate and mourn and work and learn.”

Anaheim band Weapons of Mass Creation performs at Juneteenth Day of Action event at La Palma Park in Anaheim. Photo by Jesse La Tour.

The event featured live music by local band Weapons of Mass Creation, spontaneous spoken word poetry readings, testimony by a woman whose son had been killed by the police, a candlelight vigil commemorating those killed by police in the last year, and finally a screening of Raoul Peck’s film “I am Not Your Negro” based on the writings of James Baldwin.

The event featured spoken word performances. Photo by Jesse La Tour.

Impromptu spoken word poetry performance at Juneteenth Day of Action. Photo by Jesse La Tour

Candlelight vigil for those killed by police violence. Photo by Jesse La Tour.

Candlelight vigil with art exhibit in background memorializing those killed by police violence. Photo by Jesse La Tour.

Although President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1862 officially outlawed slavery in all the states of the original Confederacy, enforcement of the Proclamation generally relied upon the advance of Union troops to enforce the Proclamation.

On June 19, 1865, Union Army General Gordon Granger announced to Texans General Order No. 3 by proclaiming and enforcing freedom of enslaved people in that state, which was the last state of the Confederacy with institutional slavery.

Slavery in the United States was officially outlawed with the ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865.

Celebrations of Juneteenth began in Texas and spread throughout the US.

As the sun sets on La Palma Park in Anaheim, residents hold a candlelight vigil on Juneteenth. Photo by Jesse La Tour.

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