Juneteenth Exhibit: Celebrating Emancipation

Juneteenth is a celebration honoring the day when Black slaves were legally freed in the United States, June 19, 1865. It commemorates the day when General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas to announce the news that the slaves were free. States and cities around the country celebrate the holiday differently. Some have receptions, like the California State Library has. Others celebrate with parades, festivals, oral histories and readings, concerts and barbecues. Texas was the first state to declare Juneteenth a State Holiday. Forty-five states recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday or state holiday observance. California is one of those states.

Images from the Library’s African American Collections

Black and white bust-length portrait of Delilah L. Beasley

Pioneering Historian

Delilah L. Beasley (1867-1934), was a newspaper columnist and historian. In her now classic work The Negro Trail Blazers of California (1919), she traced the previously untold contributions of African Americans from the 1520s to World War I. Her work is recognized as one of the most important books on California history.

daguerreotype photograph of an unidentified African American man mining for gold near Auburn Ravine in 1852

Mining near Auburn Ravine, 1852

Unidentified African American man mining for gold in Placer County, 1852. Although the miner has not been identified, he nonetheless serves as a powerful reminder of the key role of African Americans in the California Gold Rush.

black and white image of document containing all the signatures of the California legislators who ratified the 13th Amendment

California Ratifies 13th Amendment

On December 20, 1865, the Legislature ratified the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolishing slavery. To celebrate and remember this momentous event, the Legislature commissioned the creation of a double folio broadside bearing the signatures of the state law makers who voted for the amendment.

color image of a broadside of President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. The title is printed in black and blue ink with an American Flag in the center

President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, 1865

This is the first California printing of the Emancipation Proclamation. The importance of California’s loyalty to Lincoln and the Union is exemplified by the publication of this elegantly produced and now extremely rare broadside. The title and American flag were printed in color to give it an even more dramatic appearance.

title page of book about Archy Lee, shows an illustration of a man walking with a bindle over his shoulder

A Battle for Freedom

Title page of a biography of Archy Lee, an African American who was brought to California as a slave in 1857. California was a free state and Lee used the courts to obtain status as a free man. His legal battles were a cause célèbre. In March 1858, the U.S. District Court in San Francisco ruled that Archy Lee was a free man.

scan of deed of sale for a woman and her infant son, dated April 14, 1836

The Horrific Reality of Slavery

With this document, dated April 14, 1836, Joseph Emack of Washington, D.C. transferred ownership of a woman named Dorcas and her infant son to Elbert Emack. Demonstrating how these human beings were treated as chattel, the same sale also included paintings and furniture.

scan of deed of sale for woman identifieded as Mack. Deed is dated May 11, 1861

A Slave for Life

These chilling words are found on this bill of sale for a woman identified only as “Mack.” The document is dated May 11, 1861, when liberation from bondage was still four years away.

scan of Freedom Papers belonging to Thomas Gilman, dated August 17, 1852

Gold seeker Thomas Gilman purchases his freedom

Thomas of Tennessee was brought to California in 1850 by his master, J.B. Gilman, where he worked in the mines near Shaw’s Flat. Two years later, on August 17, 1852, Thomas gave his “owner” $1,000 in exchange for his release from slavery.

Juneteenth at the California State Library

Since 2014, the California State Library has partnered with Sacramento Juneteenth Inc. to host a reception kicking off a weekend of Juneteenth celebration. In 2020, as a precaution to help limit the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), our reception has been cancelled. We appreciate the support of our partners and the understanding of the community. Please enjoy these photographs from previous events and plan on joining us next year. We hope to see you at Juneteenth 2021!

Crowd view of people at the 2017 Juneteenth event. Many sitting at tables covered in white tablecloths. Guests seated in the Fragrance Garden at 2017 Juneteenth event. Chef Booker T. Pannell preparing delicious food Chef Andrea O’Neal preparing taste food LaRae Nicole singing the Negro National Hymn in the Fragrence Garden at the California State Library. Gary Simon presenting Richard Pannell with a Juneteenth Community Soldier Award Close up shot of chef's hands as food is being served at the 2016 Juneteenth event. State Librarian Greg Lucas talking to an unidentified guest Gary Simon standing at podium giving a speech Karina Robinson making presentation to group of people in the lobby of the California State Library Booker T. Pannell, Debby Lynch and Gary Simon. Booker T. Pannell is holding his honorable mention certificate Chef Richard Pannell serving up some delicious food

Community Leaders

color portrait of Alice Huffman; she is shown wearing a purple jacket and white pants

Alice Huffman

President of the California Hawaii NAACP; political, civil rights and grassroots leader.

color portrait of Grantland Johnson; he is shown wearing a brown suit and giving a thumbs up sign

Grantland Johnson

Community activist, influential political leader. Served in both federal and state departments of Health and Human Services.

color portrait of James Shelby; he is shown wearing a dark suit and seated with his arms crossed

James Shelby

Community leader and activist, former city council member and mayor of Citrus Heights, and former president of the Greater Sacramento Urban League.

color portrait of Mel Assagai; he is shown wearing a dark suit with his hands clasped together

Mel Assagai

Former chief of staff and press secretary for Senate Pro Tem David Roberti, governmental affairs director, lobbyist, and consultant.

black and white portrait of Samuel Pannell; he is shown seated at a desk with his arm bent and his hand resting on his check

Sam Pannell

Sacramento District 8 city council member 1992-1997, community activist. Community center in Meadowview named after him and his wife Bonnie who was elected to Sam’s city council seat after his passing.

color portrait of William H. Lee; he is shown seated, wearing a grey suit and red tie

William H. Lee

Co-publisher and co-founder of the Sacramento Observer, established in 1962.

color portrait of Willie Brown; shown wearing a beige suit, seated at a table holding a copy of his autobiography. Other copies of the book are stacked on the table in front of him

Willie Brown

Politician, former speaker of the California State Assembly, 41st mayor of San Francisco, served 30 years in the California State Assembly.