Juneteenth is the oldest national commemoration of the official end to slavery in the United States, yet many are still unfamiliar with the holiday and its importance. A group of Turlock activists is hoping to both educate and celebrate with the local community this Friday with the city’s first-ever Juneteenth Freedom Celebration.
It was June 19, 1865, when Union general Gordon Granger read federal orders in Galveston, Texas, that all previously-enslaved people in the state were free. Although President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation almost two and a half years earlier and the Confederacy had been defeated just weeks prior, Texas was the most remote of the slave states. With a low presence of Union troops, enforcement of the proclamation had been slow and inconsistent.
That all changed on June 19, dubbed Juneteenth, with the reading of General Order Number 3 by Granger. Celebrations of the monumental day in black history date as far back as 1866, with the holiday spreading across the South and becoming more commercialized in the 1920s and 1930s. By the 21st century Juneteenth was celebrated in most major cities throughout the United States, but activists are still campaigning for Congress to recognize the date as a national holiday.
Juneteenth is recognized as a state holiday or special day of observance in 47 of the 50 U.S. states, but this is the first time Turlock will have a dedicated event. The celebration comes during a month that has seen the community rally around different causes for the black community, including a candlelight vigil in memory of George Floyd and others lost to police brutality as well as a Black Lives Matter protest that saw hundreds march down Geer Road.
The Juneteenth Freedom Celebration at Donnelly Park will highlight black musicians, artists, dancers and vendors from the community — an effort spearheaded by local activist group Las Dalias, which is comprised of five Turlock women who want to shed light on social issues faced by minority communities.
Shanice Brown, Melanie Hernandez, Riley Cade, Natalia Luque, Kayla Daniels and Noemi Hernandez have made it their goal to bring awareness to not only the black community of Turlock, but other marginalized groups including the Latinx and LGBTQ+ communities.
“It’s not necessarily focusing just on Black Lives Matter, though that is our focus at this moment and a pressing issue we’re unfortunately dealing with nationwide. We’re wanting to reach all sectors of social justice and human rights for those whose voices aren’t heard and get them the respect they deserve,” Luque said.
After organizing June 7’s peaceful protest, Las Dalias set their sights on Juneteenth as the next day to spread awareness about the black culture that is alive and well in Turlock and its history.
“Being from Turlock and being a black woman, when I moved away, I saw so many different cultural types of events, cultural awareness and communities that embraced all types of culture. What better time to do that here than Juneteenth?” Brown said. “It needs to start somewhere because it’s taken too long for no change to be made in Turlock. We need to show the beautiful side of our culture: the art, the youth, the music and the speakers…We’re shining light on what Juneteenth is and bringing that education here to the city, because growing up in school we never heard anything about it and it’s a major highlight of black history.”
The event is about embracing and empowering the local black community, Brown added.
“Especially the youth,” she said. “They need to know it’s okay to embrace who you are.”
While it was difficult to obtain a permit for the event from the City of Turlock, Daniels said, the group was able to coordinate with local black-owned businesses in just a few days’ time to make the Juneteenth Freedom Celebration a reality. In addition to food, music and vendors, a voter registration booth will also be at the event. Westside Ministries’ dance troupe, Center for Urban Performance and Service, are set to perform during the event as well.
Luque said she believes Friday’s Juneteenth celebration is Turlock’s first community-wide event for the historic date because the holiday makes some “uncomfortable.”
“If you’re uncomfortable with it, then that’s a sign to bring change. Uncomfortable isn’t a bad thing and change isn’t a bad thing all the time…I understand a lot of people don’t like change, but it comes to a point where you can’t let comfortability determine how people should live their lives,” she said.
Las Dalias hopes that Turlock community members with questions about Juneteenth or black culture in general will take the opportunity on Friday to spend time learning in Donnelly Park.
“Embracing our local black community is such an important thing because it gives people here in Turlock the chance to talk about things, pose questions and make people more aware of the struggles that are present,” Luque said. “It’s not our job to educate everybody — people kind of have to take their own steps in educating themselves as well. This could definitely be that first step.”
Turlock’s first annual Juneteenth Freedom Celebration will take place from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday at Donnelly Park. Attendees are encouraged to bring chairs and blankets to watch performances, wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines while attending.
Those interested in donating to the event or participating as a vendor can contact Las Dalias at email@example.com.