by Photo by Sarah Berjan

The Juneteenth flag waves at Chula Vista City Hall for the second time in an official commemoration of the official day that enslaved people in the confederacy were freed. 

The last enslaved African Americans in the United States were granted freedom on June 19, 1865, after Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, TX, and announced that the Civil War was officially over. The troops’ arrival came a full two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863. 

California has observed June 19, or Juneteenth, since 2017, but it was not federally recognized until President Joe Biden enacted the Juneteenth National Independence Act in 2021. Chula Vista elected officials collaborated with the Human Relations Commission to raise the Juneteenth flag on Friday. Officials say it is part of the city's commitment to inclusion, acknowledging and appreciating the diversity in the community. 

Human Relations Chair Petrina Branch and Chula Vista Elementary School District Director of Leadership Development, Equity and Access Debra McLaren, Ed. D spoke on the significance of Juneteenth before Martin Luther King Jr. Community Choir San Diego performed songs rooted in the American south during slavery. 

“It is now 157 years since slavery was formally abolished. While we celebrate the end of slavery, we celebrate the advances of civil rights over the years and the establishment of Juneteenth as a federal holiday, we must not be satisfied as a community or nation,” Branch said. “Black people from birth to death still face systemic disadvantages in American life. Gaps rooted in a legacy of slavery and segregation persist, discrimination persists.”

Since the U.S. Supreme Court enacted the 13th Amendment in 1883, state and federal-local governments have perpetrated and created policies that have harmed and disadvantaged Black people, according to Branch. California is no exception, although it was the first in the nation to establish a task force on reparations with Assembly Bill 3121, to give “special consideration” to direct descendants of enslaved people. 

The task force released an interim report earlier this month that synthesized many relevant issues, ranging from enslavement and government-sanctioned residential segregation to environmental injustice and political disenfranchisement. The interim report includes a preliminary set of recommendations to the California Legislature. A final report is expected in 2023.

“As we celebrate Juneteenth, there is still work to be done for our country to live up to the promises of our founding documents. Let us all continue to push for political, educational, social, and economic equality for all and address systemic racism. It is not time to be satisfied. Justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Branch said. 

McLaren echoed the need for continued awareness of the systems of oppression that continue to close opportunity and access for many, particularly people of color. 

“When I think of what it means to raise the flag, I am reminded of the 245 years and almost nine generations that endured tremendous suffering and the courageous sacrifices to put the ‘we’ back in ‘we the people,” McLaren said. “We need to continue raising awareness. Our children are watching and listening to what we are saying and doing. You've got to be taught before it is too late.”

According to McLaren, raising the Juneteenth flag is an example of what is possible when people come together to overcome systems built on hate, fear, and prejudice. 

“We must do more. We must continue to raise our expectations for what we want from our legislators, our schools, our communities, and most importantly, what we expect from ourselves. We must continue to raise expectations for what we truly value. What our constitution states when it says that we have the right to liberty, life, and the pursuit of happiness. We are the ‘we’ in ‘we the people. This is the foundation upon which our entire constitution depends,” McLaren said. 

Councilmember Andrea Cardenas said celebrations like this is an opportunity to consider what more we can do locally. 

“We want to include more residents in these very important conversations. As an advocate and activist for change, I call on all of our residents and institutions to reject racism and discrimination in all forms. Let's use our collective power to create and advocate for change that supports those words in the emancipation proclamation that all persons are and henceforth shall be free,” Cardenas said. 

The city of Chula Vista temporarily removed the PRIDE flag, which has been hung since June 1, to fly the Juneteenth flag. The PRIDE flag will return on June 21 through the end of the month.

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