Please join Benicia Black Lives Matter in our commemoration and celebration of Juneteenth at the Benicia Veterans Memorial Hall on First Street on Sunday, June 19th from 11 am to 5 pm. (Not at the Camel Barns as previously posted here.) There will be speeches, history, music, dance, vendors and children’s activities to honor Black history and culture as well as a few family activities for Father’s Day. For more information see below.
Juneteenth – Our Second Independence Day
As our calendar works its way towards mid-June, we are looking forward to observing the new National Holiday of Juneteenth to honor those who were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation and Constitutional Amendment of 1863.
Although Juneteenth is known as the “Second Independence Day,” it’s really the “First Independence Day” for many. The freedom some gained when England released its hold on the Americas when we won the Revolutionary War in 1783 did not affect a great and important part of our population. In fact, the term “freedom” at that time only applied to those empowered by the color of their skin, their gender, and the coins in their pocket. The practice of slavery— impacting the Africans brought to and sold in the United States, the subjugated Native Americans, and, to a lesser extent, those indentured—continued to experience immense growth over the next century.
According to the US Census Bureau, in 1790 there were nearly 700,000 enslaved people in the US, or approximately 18 percent of the total population. This included ninety-two percent of all people of African descent. By 1860, there were over four million slaves in the South alone. Of the total Black population living in the United States at that time, about 89 percent were living in slavery.
Early abolitionist work began in the 1780s with a handful of people, most of whom were from the Northeast. The movement was slow to gain momentum. In the 1830s Black leaders such as Fredrick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and John Brown brought more public awareness to the injustice of slavery. By the 1850s there was just enough recognition of the horror and inhumanity surrounding slavery to begin real change. At the height of the Civil War, on the eve of January 1, 1863, enslaved and free African Americans gathered in churches and private homes across the country awaiting news that the Emancipation Proclamation had taken effect. Finally, at midnight, all enslaved people in the United States, including those in the Confederate South, were declared legally free.
But some states, especially those in the Confederacy, held on to their claim to slavery for as long as they could. Even though the Emancipation Proclamation was made effective immediately, the South refused to recognize the Constitutional Amendment. It took time for the hard-earned proclamation to be honored, and its execution was rolled out state by state. The Confederate state of Texas was one of the last states to comply. Freedom finally came on June 19, 1865 – more than two years after the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation – when Union troops arrived in Galveston. The Union army, as commanded by the President, announced that enslaved Black people in the State of Texas were free by executive decree. June 19th came to be celebrated within the African-American community local to Galveston before it spread to other parts of the US, and is now known as “Juneteenth.”
The City of Benicia has its own history of slavery. According to an article written by Ian Thompson for the Daily Republic in 2012, our city included six African Americans among its population of 480 people in 1850. One of the six was a man named Adam Willis, who came from Missouri to Benicia with his enslaver, Singleton Vaughn. Willis also became one of the first free African Americans in town when he was emancipated by a Benicia courtroom on September 27, 1855. A second Black resident was a former Bear Flag veteran named Joseph McAfee. McAfee was part of the Western Underground Railroad that freed slaves in pre-Civil War California, when there was still dissent over whether slavery should be legally allowed or banned in our newly recognized state.
Although Juneteenth has been long celebrated in the African-American community, most Americans remained unaware of this important event and its significance until very recently. This is the second year that Juneteenth is listed as a Federal Holiday, commemorating the history of and triumph over slavery. It is also a marker of the work in progress and the work ahead as we move towards a more equitable society.
MORE ABOUT BBLM’S 2ND ANNUAL JUNETEENTH FESTIVAL
● The festival will take place from 11 am to 5 pm at the Veterans Memorial Hall at 1150 First Street.
● Everyone is welcome—this is a family event!
● There will be food and drinks vendors along with small businesses selling everything from cosmetics to fine art and literature.
● A formal staged program with speakers, and performances. Readings will start at 1 pm. There will be time to shop and enjoy the music, food, and drink before and after the
● Families can look forward to fun educational activities, including a scavenger hunt with prizes, a craft table with art, a storyteller, popcorn, and cotton candy.
● We’ll have a free Father’s Day culturally appropriate gift for fathers and father figures, and an opportunity to have a family photo taken for a suggested donation between 2 and 3:30pm.