18th Annual Riverside Juneteenth Celebration
By Dianne Anderson
When Delores Armour first moved to Riverside in 1988, she met community historian and civil rights leader Rose Mayes, who spoke of her excitement in going home to Texas for the big Juneteenth celebration.
As a history teacher of nearly four decades, Armour said she was surprised that she had never heard the phrase before.
Her research became a personal quest. She went to the library to find anything she could, which was limited to one single book that barely mentioned the celebration.
“They had maybe six lines about Juneteenth. I said, ‘Oh my goodness, this is ridiculous,’” she said.
Compelled to bring more understanding to the community, she formed a Juneteenth committee, holding their first event in 1993 at a local hotel, but she wanted to stay true to the history of the celebration, and moved the venue out to local residences.
Participation flourished in the following years, regularly pulling over 200 to the festivities until 18 years ago when they settled at what was then the predominantly African American area of Bordwell Park.
The event is always fun for the entire family with learning at its foundation. For her, the love of all things related to African American history and the diaspora is the lifeline of Juneteenth.
Each year, she hosts informative presentations on the great, but little known African history makers in California, among them, Governor Pío de Jesús Pico, a Black-Mexican, who served in 1845-1846.
“Many people don’t know that,” she said. “We talk about Allensworth, a town in Kern County, and the place where many of the settlers came through.”
Keeping Juneteenth packed with information and resources for the community is important. There is a need to remember the past, and consider the future.
“In these times, it’s important to reflect on where we’ve been to know where we’re going as a society,” she said. “I’m a child of the 60’s. I think we are not making the progress we should have made by now.”
It is hard for her to look back on how far the nation has come, yet seeing some old familiar politics of the past play out again.
“Everyone seems to think [that] we are progressing. I still see things being done that was done 50 years ago,” she said. “If we’ve made progress, those things should have stopped by now.”
On Saturday, June 2, the community is invited to the 18th Annual Riverside Juneteenth Celebration and join in the fun with information and health resources for the whole family. The free event runs from noon to 6:00 p.m. at 2008 Martin Luther King Boulevard.
Over 30 vendors will be tabling with a variety of arts and crafts, and local entertainment from gospel to hip-hop, including Heart & Soul Line Dancers and Caribbean Gems Dance Group.
Inside the Bordwell Park-Stratton Community Center, free health screenings for blood pressure and diabetes will be available. They will also host a mental health presentation, along with many health resources and information.
Aaron Harris, a local jazz musician, has been involved with the event for several years, and said that Juneteenth is not only a celebration, but as importantly, it’s about access to vital information.
Despite massive amounts of information available today, he is often shocked that many people still don’t know their history, who and what the Confederacy represents.
On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger took 2,000 troops to Galveston, Texas to officially announce and enforce President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which until that time, white slave owners had refused to comply with, or acknowledge.
So much still goes under the radar, he said. Other things aren’t so obvious, like the monumental symbolism coming up next year in 2019, officially marking the beginning of enslavement in America
“I’ve written 1619 a hundred times about [the start of slavery] in Virginia and noticed that we are right here 400 years later. I never put the dates together,” he said.
Harris, who is finishing up a book on Juneteenth, often thinks about what if Juneteenth never happened, or if word of emancipation never reached the enslaved people of Galveston.
“How would that have changed history?” he said. “It took two and a half years to get the word to the closed-off area of Texas that slavery had ended in January 1863. Two and a half years, it’s a tremendous amount of time when they should have been free.”
For more information, or to volunteer, see http://www.juneteenthsocal.org