Californians commemorate Juneteenth with street parades, festivals

An audience member cheers during the Watts Juneteenth Street Fair on June 19, 2021 in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. - The US on June 17 designated Juneteenth, which marks the end of slavery in the country, a federal holiday with

For 20 years, Sacramento’s Black community has organized a Juneteenth festival to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States.

The celebration features a parade, talent show, food and health fair, and even a golf tournament. It’s a meaningful undertaking for Gary Simon, executive director of the event, but this year’s Juneteenth carried even more significance for him.

"This is the first Juneteenth where it’s being recognized nationally and socially, by the masses and not just within our community," Simon said. "We’ve seen an uptick in non-Black folks coming here for the last several years, and I’m seeing the difference in just the conversations taking place today."

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 19: Chinedu Unaka performs at the Juneteenth Block Party at The Laugh Factory on June 19, 2021 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, two months after the Confederacy had surrendered. It was about 2 1/2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in Southern states.

President Joe Biden on Thursday signed a bill creating Juneteenth National Independence Day. Since June 19 fell on a Saturday, the government observed the holiday Friday.

Santa Clara County became the first county in the state to close offices and give employees the day off with pay to recognize the holiday.

In San Francisco, an art installation inspired by America's moment of racial reckoning was unveiled on the eve of Juneteenth. The work consisting of 350 sculptures, representing the first Africans who were sold into slavery, surrounded the site of a Francis Scott Key sculpture that was toppled by protesters angered by the police killing of George Floyd a year ago.

Juneteenth offered the first major opportunity to party in public after California lifted all coronavirus restrictions and reopened Tuesday.

In the Los Angeles area, people flocked to a car parade in Inglewood and a jubilant street festival in Leimert Park, the civic heart of the city's Black community, as it reopened Saturday for the first time in three years.