South Bay celebrates Juneteenth, some hope to make it relevant to all Americans

Each year in June, many African-Americans gather to march, and sing ancestral songs of pain, progress, and pride, such as “Lift Every Voice.” Since 1865, celebrations on the 19th have marked Juneteenth – America’s other Independence Day.

“When you’re black, joy itself – being joyful, having fun – is an act of resistance. It’s an act of rebellion, just having fun,” said Aida Hoag, an organizer for one of the Juneteenth celebrations in the South Bay.

Those words speak to wounds two centuries ago. Despite the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, all U.S. slaves weren’t freed until Union General Gordon Granger landed in Galveston in June of 1865 to enforce the proclamation. That was more than a month after the Civil War ended.

“African enslaved persons had no reason to celebrate independence until 1865 when they found out that they were in fact free,” said social scientist Dr. Nenaji Jackson.

A public policy expert, Jackson said the Juneteenth holiday started gaining national attention with the Black Power and pride movement of the '60s.

“Now all Americans can celebrate the freedom of all Americans. Not just white Americans who had freedom. But also African-Americans who became free,” she said. Added Baisa Gonzalez of DeBug, “Juneteenth signifies the liberation of our people as slaves in this country. And we’re using that now to speak to that. Like, hey, we’ve liberated our people in the past, and now we’re looking to liberate our youth.”

A celebration once enjoyed predominantly by brown people is now shared by the tapestry of humanity. Looking back at past gains galvanizes some for the fight for future progress.

“So many of us are so tired of change not happening. And seeing the same thing happen over and over. They’re gonna do the work and we’re gonna stand here and doing the work too,” said Vito Chiala, principal of Overfelt High School in East San Jose.

Overfelt students organized a march from their campus to San Jose City Hall to show support and solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, as the nation as a whole marks another step on the path to a more perfect union.