Happy Juneteenth!

Juneteenth (June 19th) is a holiday celebrating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in the United States. Although only created a national federal holiday in 2021, it has been celebrated annually on June 19 since 1865, marking the date when 250,000 enslaved people in Texas found out that they had been emancipated by executive decree.

Texas was the last area in the South to receive the news that slavery had been abolished. The announcement came over two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. The Confederacy had no desire to inform the enslaved population that they were free, and it was not until Union troops under Major General Gordon Granger arrived at Galveston that the news reached African Americans in Texas.

Californians might think that Juneteenth is not important to California history, but slavery and its consequences is an issue that transcends the South and the Civil War. Slavery was a major topic discussed at the California Constitutional Convention in September 1849 and there were certainly a number of men at that convention who wanted slavery to be legal in California. And even though California entered the Union as a free state, it was possible to bring enslaved people from slave states into California and nothing in California law would make them free.

Stephen Hill

I have only explored a handful of stories of blacks, both free and enslaved, in California history. It’s a rewarding topic to dig into, full of stories of hope and courage and determination.

Read about Stephen Hill, who struggled to keep himself free, George Washington Dennis, who purchased his freedom from his own father, and Ida Taylor, who had to wait well past 1865 to find out she was free.

One of the most famous African American pioneers of California (who I have not written about myself), was Biddy Mason, who successfully sued in court for her freedom, and who became a prominent businesswoman in Los Angeles.

And don’t forget Alvin Coffey, the subject of my latest book. Let me know if you would like to get a copy of the book and I will make it happen!

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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2 Responses to Happy Juneteenth!

  1. Vickie T says:

    I would like to order your book, Alvin Coffey and several of the others.

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