San Diego County becomes the only local government to observe on June 19

The June 19 flag flew over the San Diego County Administrative Center on Friday, as all county facilities and offices prepared to close on Monday to celebrate the holiday marking the end of slavery.

June 19, celebrated on June 19, marks the emancipation of enslaved black people in Texas, the westernmost state of the Confederacy. The Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves from the Confederate States in 1863, but this edict was not enforced in Texas until two and a half years later. Since then, black Americans have honored Juneteenth as a celebration of black culture and community.

Last June, President Joe Biden signed legislation declaring June 19 a national holiday, and this year San Diego County led the region in celebrating the event with a ceremony and a day of observance.

On Monday, the day after the holiday, all San Diego County offices, family resource centers, libraries and animal shelters will be closed. Town halls across the region will remain open on Monday, making the county the only local government agency to observe the holidays.

On Friday, county officials and community leaders raised the June 19 flag alongside the American and California flags in the center of the county.

“Black people have been celebrating Juneteenth for years,” said Vanessa Green, county office manager for the Office of Racial Equity and Justice. “It’s to honor African Americans in the face of persistent gender and racial inequality.”

To kick off the ceremony, Mother Dorothy Williams of Mount Zion Baptist Church performed the black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” while audience members sang along.

San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chairman Nathan Fletcher said the holiday was both a celebration of black accomplishments and a promise to right lingering injustice. He pointed to the disparate health outcomes, life expectancy and economic status between black and white Americans as evidence of continuing racial divisions.

“We celebrate this as an acknowledgment of the original sin of the founding of our country, but reflect on the work that needs to be done,” Fletcher said.

He said the county has taken steps to address racial injustice through programs to address homelessness, reform criminal justice processes and revamp mental illness treatment systems, while taking account of the disproportionate impact of these issues on black communities. The June 19 celebration is not a solution in itself, but an acknowledgment of the effort needed to achieve racial justice, he said.

“Just raising a flag doesn’t improve someone’s life, but it is important,” he said.

The holiday has gained prominence following nationwide protests over the 2020 police killing of George Floyd and other Black Americans. Its adoption as an official holiday comes as the county addresses the legacy of slavery and persistent racism.

The Cooper Family Foundation has held a June 16 celebration for more than 60 years, during which it has evolved from a backyard party to a public festival, family members said. During those decades, he provided “color, culture, and awareness,” said Roosevelt Williams III, CEO of the organization Young, Black, & N’ Business.

Sidney Cooper Jr. said his father founded the event to celebrate what he considered Black Independence Day.

“My dad said we should celebrate June 19 like we celebrate July 4,” Cooper said.

Visitors can get one of the festival’s 1,500 free packed lunches, he said. More than 100 black-owned businesses will host booths and the 70s R&B and funk band Con Funk Shun will be the headliner of the event. Children can access the “Fun Zone” by learning a fact about emancipation in the story field, Cooper said, adding that education plays a key role in the event.

“There is a way to go because we live in a divided society,” he said. “I think young people are more inclusive than us. I think we have to look to young people to take us forward.

The Juneteenth Healing the Community Festival takes place on Saturdays from 11:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. at Memorial Park at 2975 Ocean View Blvd., San Diego.