In honor of the upcoming Juneteenth holiday and Black American achievements, San Mateo County raised the Juneteenth flag for the first time in its history at the County Center Friday.
“I’m really excited to be spearheading this effort with Supervisor [Carole] Groom to recognize the importance of this holiday and what this flag really represents,” Don Horsley, president of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, said at a June 3 flag raising ceremony.
The Board of Supervisors adopted a May 3 ordinance designating June 19 as Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. The day is celebrated instead of the Emancipation Proclamation signed on Jan. 1, 1863, because enslaved people in Texas only learned of their freedom on June 19, 1865, when Union General Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3. The war and slow movement of Union troops into the Confederacy meant the last enslaved people got the news two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
First celebrated in 1866, the holiday marks a time for all Americans to reflect and remember the nation’s history and the many contributions of Black people to the country. Since that time, more people and cities have celebrated and raised the flag. President Joe Biden designated Juneteenth a federal holiday in 2021, while the Illinois State Capitol flew the flag in 2021. Lisa Jeanne Graf designed the flag in 1997. It features a white star surrounded by a starburst to represent Texas and the freedom of Black Americans in all states, a curved line behind the star representing a new horizon, and red, white and blue colors from the U.S. flag.
Rose Jacobs-Gibson, the former San Mateo County supervisor for District 4, hopes the day reminds the public that everyone’s lives are intertwined together. She invoked the words of civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer that nobody is free until everyone is free.
“Today, we raise the Juneteenth flag as a symbol of liberty and freedom for Americans,” Jacobs-Gibson said. “We celebrate an important milestone, reflect on how far we have come, and how far we still have to go to have genuine justice and equity for all.”
The Rev. Lorrie Owens, president of the NAACP San Mateo Branch, said it is about time everyone celebrated the holiday together, given the history of the nation and the jump toward living out the creeds adopted in the Declaration of Independence. She urged people to remember issues of systematic racism but to work together as Americans to bring justice and equality and honor the creed that all people are created equal.
“Juneteenth is not a Black holiday. It is a holiday for all Americans. We should celebrate it at the same level that we celebrate the Fourth of July,” Owens said. “In essence, Juneteenth is a second Independence Day.”
Horsley said that while there are issues communities must solve, the area has progressed. Horsley recalled his experiences seeing Jim Crow and segregation in California, noting as a kid, he saw Black families not allowed in swimming pools and protests in San Francisco against racist hiring practices. He also noted many areas like East Palo Alto were redlined and contributed to generational wealth gaps between white and Black people.
“The only way we are ever going to be able to deal with implicit bias is to recognize the injustices of the past and do better,” Horsley said.
Groom, who helped spearhead the efforts to commemorate Juneteenth, thanked the public and community leaders for their efforts.
“Thank you very much for joining us on this first Juneteenth celebration,” Groom said. “Think positive thoughts about San Mateo County, the state of California and the United States of America.”
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