Juneteenth celebrations shed light on early life for Blacks at SJSU

For the first time, the U.S. officially observed Juneteenth as a national holiday.

The Day marks the enforcement of the end of slavery in Texas more than 150 years ago.

Some have said that act, which is separated from California by several states and more than a century of time, still has meaning in the Bay Area.

Inside multiple libraries across San Jose, exhibits meant to mark an ending, also signal a new beginning.

"I think there’s a way in which Juneteenth is almost becoming a second black history month," said Carli Lowe, the San Jose State University archivist.

Lowe spent three years researching the Black experience at the college, prior to the 1960s.

The "Black Spartans" exhibit highlight students and their stories – such as Lucy Turner. She was the first African-American to attend and graduate from San Jose State University, known as the Normal College back in 1907. And Palo Altan William Moulden. A poet, orator, and aviator, he attended the school from 1935 to 1941.

"There’s some comfort for me in knowing there were other black people here before me. And so that was part of my desire to do an exhibit like this," said Lowe.

The exhibit was originally on display in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library during Black History month. But with the national celebration of Juneteenth, it was expanded off-campus, to libraries around the city.

"We celebrate it because we’re celebrating the founding theme of America, which is freedom," said Africana studies expert Dr. V. Nenaji Jackson. "It’s important for Americans to celebrate freedom any chance they get."

Dr. Jackson said it’s important to celebrate in as many was as possible, too. Inside the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library on the SJSU campus, sits an exhibit of cookbooks with ties to Juneteenth.

"We wanted to think about how we would honor Juneteenth. And I said, I have this large collection of cookbooks at home, that for me traces our lineage far back," said Dr. Shonda Goward.

She serves as the Assistant Vice Provost for Undergraduate Advising & Success at the school, and said the books not only detail recipes from before the Emancipation Proclamation, but also provide a portrait in early Juneteenth celebrations.

"Collecting those books and displaying them…So we don’t lose those important things. Original Juneteenth celebrations were speeches about black uplift, and what are we going to do next?"

It is a more detailed look at one aspect of the American experience, that some have said can benefit all Americans as they work to create a more perfect union.

Jesse Gary is a reporter based in the station's South Bay Bureau. Follow him on Twitter @JesseKTVU and Instagram @jessegontv