Slavery’s impact on ‘soul of America’ marked at Juneteenth event at California Capitol

A gathering on the west steps of California’s Capitol on Wednesday celebrated Juneteenth – the oldest national celebration of the end of slavery in the United States.

Leaders of the Juneteenth movement talked about the importance of the holiday and a House hearing on slavery reparations Wednesday morning in Washington, D.C.

“Most Americans do not want to talk about the horrific things that happened during slavery,” said Michael Harris, regional director for the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, who hosted the gathering. “We want to talk about everything except that. And so this day has been set aside to focus on the horrific things that happened during slavery and to talk about if there are any vestiges of slavery that still exist today,”

“The soul of America is going have to deal with how people of African descent were treated and how they are still being treated today,” Harris said.

Juneteenth is a hybrid of the words June and nineteenth, to celebrate June 19, 1865, or the day Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced emancipation from slavery. “It’s the date agreed upon 25 years ago by the National Juneteenth leaders to celebrate freedom from slavery in America,” Harris said.

Texas was the first state to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday in 1980. However, Juneteenth is not a national holiday, though the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation has been trying for many years to get Congress to recognize it. In 2017, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution establishing “Juneteenth Independence Day” as a holiday, but the House did not approve it and the effort would need to be reintroduced to have a chance at becoming official.

“People have their assumptions of what Juneteenth is and turning it into basically another Black History Month. Many of us, myself included, are seriously focused on what Juneteenth is,” Harris said.

In addition to the Juneteenth gathering at the Capitol on Wednesday, the North Sacramento Family Resource Center planned to hold its annual Juneteenth event starting at 5 p.m. at 1217 Del Paso Blvd., Suite B.

Related stories from Merced Sun-Star

Elizabeth Shwe, from Princeton University, is a local news reporter for The Sacramento Bee interested in politics and immigration. She grew up in New Jersey.