Long Beach declares Juneteenth a ‘Day of Celebration.’ City wants state, federal recognition

Long Beach officially designated Juneteenth a “Day of Celebration,” and the city will start advocating for it to become a state and federal holiday now that the City Council voted unanimously to approve the proposal Tuesday night.

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, the day that Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, announcing that the Civil War had ended and those who were enslaved were now free.

The motion to make it a city celebration and push for state and federal recognition was introduced by Councilman Al Austin, who said the holiday is important to mark both African-American freedom and the cultural contributions they’ve made throughout history.

Locally, an event is planned for June 19 in Downtown on Pine Avenue with entertainers and guest speakers. That event is free and is scheduled to run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Last year it was marked by a car caravan near Bixby Park.

“We’ll be celebrating Juneteenth but also the reopening of our state, our city, and I think it’s a great time for us to all come together and celebrate,” Austin said.

A growing number of cities, states and corporate entities have added their name to the list that officially recognizes the June 19 celebration, with a few even making it a paid day off, but it has yet to become a federally recognized holiday.

Carl Kemp, who is organizing this year’s Juneteenth event Downtown, said that the day provides an opportunity to “confront our ugliest sins” and could be a leadership moment for the city if it advocates for broader adoption of the holiday across the country.

“After 400 years of free labor extracted from the blood of Black Americans, one day of recognition and celebration of freedom seems more than reasonable,” Kemp said.

The council voted 9-0 to approve the motion, and several members indicated they would be making monetary donations to the celebration this month.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.