OCEANSIDE — While Juneteenth has been celebrated in the city for several decades, this was the first year it was celebrated as a federal holiday.
For more than 40 years every June, the North San Diego County NAACP has been hosting its annual downtown Juneteenth Celebration in Oceanside to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States.
On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the Civil War had ended and that all slaves were free. This was two years after President Abraham Lincoln presented his Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves, which became official law on Jan. 1, 1863.
Until those troops arrived in June of 1865, Texas had basically ignored the Emancipation Proclamation for the previous two years because of the lack of Union troops there to enforce the new law.
“Even though they got the word late, there was celebration,” said Rob Jenkins, first vice president of the North San Diego County NAACP.
Thus Juneteenth was born, but it wouldn’t be officially recognized as a federal holiday until President Joseph R. Biden signed a law making it one last week, just days before the holiday.
This year’s event downtown was scaled down from previous years due to impacts from COVID-19, though the NAACP hopes to make it bigger next year and in the following years.
“Because of COVID, we didn’t get approval for this until two weeks ago,” said North San Diego County NAACP President Satia Austin.
The organization was able to work with MainStreet Oceanside to bypass some of the permitting process and charged vendors a small fee to make the event along North Ditmar Street and Pier View Way happen.
The NAACP also partnered with Vista Community Clinic and San Diego Blood Bank to provide dental checkups, COVID-19 vaccinations and to take blood donations.
For both Jenkins and Austin, the goal for the downtown event was to spread community awareness about Juneteenth.
“It’s about being here in the community creating that awareness and making sure we eliminate disparities,” Austin said. “Education is everything.”
Austin said some community members feel they shouldn’t celebrate Juneteenth if they aren’t black, but for her “support is support.”
“If you don’t come out and support the community, everything is going to stay exactly where it was — going nowhere,” she said.
Jenkins liked seeing the diverse community coming out and celebrating Juneteenth. He was also excited to hear about other, newer Juneteenth celebrations happening in places like Temecula and other parts of Southern California.
For Austin, it’s important that people step up to help create change, starting first by listening and then by showing up.
“You can’t complain about something you’re not helping do,” she said. “If we just sit there and be complacent and comply, then we’re part of the problem — so just show up.”
The NAACP has been working on making change around the region for many years and particularly the last year following the murder of George Floyd and major national unrest over police accountability. Austin started a police task force consisting of local community organizations to create more transparency and promote better de-escalation practices from law enforcement agencies.
The NAACP has worked with Oceanside and Escondido police departments to roll out new de-escalation policies and has started talks in Encinitas and Carlsbad as well.
Oceanside’s newest Police Chief Fred Armijo is a member of the North San Diego County NAACP. Austin said she wants to see an OPD booth at the Juneteenth Celebration every year, like this year.