Santa Clara County was first in California to declare Juneteenth a holiday

"Happy Emancipation Day, Happy Freedom Day, Happy Jubilee Day!"

Those well-wishes were sent out Friday as Santa Clara County made history.

For the first time, most county offices were closed and employees had the day off with pay to celebrate the Juneteenth holiday. Because the actual holiday falls on Saturday, most county workers were given Friday off.

"We were the first county in the state of California to do this and I'm so excited that so many others are joining," said Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez.

Community and county leaders marked the milestone Friday and discussed the importance of what has been called "America's other independence day."

They also recognized those who raised their voices in 2020 following George Floyd's death who rallied for the paid holiday.

"It came because of community request, community inquiry, community demand," said State Senator Dave Cortese, who was on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors at the time.

The meaning behind Juneteenth comes from the Emancipation Proclamation, which passed in January 1865.

It wasn't until June 19, 1865 when a Union general landed in Galveston, Texas to enforce the proclamation and announced the remaining enslaved people were free.

The head of San Jose-based African American Community Service Agency, Milan Balinton, hopes the newly designated holiday inspires more conversations.

He also hopes it helps others find their own freedom, whether it's from mental illness or economic insecurity.

"It may take awhile for freedom to come for you, but it will come. Today is a true testament," said Balinton.

At the restaurant Jackie's Place in San Jose, owner Jackie Jackson says behind the biscuits, gravy and BBQ is a family history.

"It means a lot to be able to sell the food we grew up on that my ancestors made," said Jackson.

She says to her, Juneteenth is about telling stories of where her family came from including the time she was watching the show American Bandstand with her great-grandfather, who was a former slave.

"When he saw it on television, he started crying. I asked him what was going on. He said he never thought he would live to see the day that blacks and whites would be in the same place together, much less dancing with one another," said Jackson. "To see where we have come from back when I was a child to now, it's a long overdue celebration that should have happened a long time ago."

Santa Clara County's declaration came before President Biden this week signed legislation making Juneteenth a federal holiday.

The African American Community Service Agency Saturday will host its 40th Juneteenth celebration at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds. Organizers say it's sold out