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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
President of the California Hawaii NAACP; political, civil rights and grassroots leader.
Community activist, influential political leader. Served in both federal and state departments of Health and Human Services.
Community leader and activist, former city council member and mayor of Citrus Heights, and former president of the Greater Sacramento Urban League.
Former chief of staff and press secretary for Senate Pro Tem David Roberti, governmental affairs director, lobbyist, and consultant.
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.
William H. Lee
Co-publisher and co-founder of the Sacramento Observer, established in 1962.
Politician, former speaker of the California State Assembly, 41st mayor of San Francisco, served 30 years in the California State Assembly.