Today is the official Juneteenth holiday, commemorating the day in 1865 when federal troops arrived in Galveston, TX to enforce the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation and officially notified the western-most enslaved Black Americans that they were officially free.
More than 100 years later, in 1979, Texas was the first to proclaim the date a state holiday, and many others (including California) followed suit over the next 40 years. In 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden signed a new law making Juneteenth an official federal holiday.
This year, we ran across a couple of recent articles that fill in some other interesting details about Juneteenth, which we thought were worth passing along.
First, LAist yesterday recounted the history of what may be Los Angeles’ largest and longest-running Juneteenth celebration, which began as a backyard barbecue held by Texas transplant Jonathan Leonard in 1949. The Leonards continued their family tradition each year after that, always serving barbecue and Big Red soda, welcoming more and more people each year until it eventually grew too big for their own yard and moved to Leimert Park. These days, the Leimert Park Juneteenth celebration is a huge, professionally-organized public festival, with many big-name corporate sponsors. This year’s event, which starts at noon today, will host more than 300 vendors, has five performance stages, and is expected to welcome more than 50,000 attendees.
And while Jonathan Leonard passed away in 2017, his daughters Ariyana Leonard and AyEsha Leonard McLaughlin still participate.
”This is something that we do, my children do. My husband is now the chef and he barbecues,” AyEsha told LAist. “He uses the same recipe my sister used to do with my dad; my daughter actually does it now. So it’s like, it’s just this continuous tradition of awareness and family gathering.”
Also, as you can see in the image at the top of this story, Juneteenth has its own flag, the history of which was recounted by Dwell magazine.
According to the Dwell story, the flag and its design come from the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation:
“The flag was first hoisted in 2000 at the Roxbury Heritage State Park in Boston, Massachusetts, by the foundation’s founder Ben Haith, who also created its design.
Haith, who’s known as Boston Ben, drafted the flag’s inchoate elements in 1997 alongside a host of contributors. To reflect the celebration’s slogan—”a new freedom, a new people, a new star”—the banner included a red arc, blue background, and “a star of Texas bursting with new freedom throughout the land, over a new horizon,” says the foundation. Then, in 2000, in preparation of that inaugural flag-raising in Boston, illustrator Lisa Jeanne Graf lent her expert eye to arrive at the flag’s current design. “As an illustrator, I fine-tuned their vision,” she reflects. Beginning in 2007, the flag would see Graf’s iteration occasionally emblazoned with the historic date “June 19th, 1865.”
So whether or not you attend a formal celebration today, we’d definitely recommend taking at least a few minutes to learn more about this fairly new national holiday…and the important chapter it commemorates in our American history.