SF State professor reflects on Juneteenth: it ‘represents liberty for Black people in America’

Author: Kent Bravo
June 13, 2023
Woman smiling
Photo Credit: Tiffany Caesar

Assistant Professor of Africana Studies Tiffany Caesar looks back on the history of the celebration, now a holiday for CSU employees

On March 22, 2023, the California State University (CSU) Board of Trustees adopted a resolution designating June 19 (Juneteenth), which was recognized as a federal and California state holiday in recent years, as a paid holiday for CSU employees effective this calendar year. Ahead of the holiday this year, we spoke to San Francisco State University Assistant Professor of Africana Studies Tiffany Caesar, who looked back on the history of the holiday and shared what it means to her and ways to celebrate this year.

What is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth National Independence Day celebrates the emancipation of slaves in Galveston, Texas, signifying the end of slavery in all states. Juneteenth stands for June 19, 1865, when General Gordon Granger read General Order No. 3 on Galveston Island affirming that all slaves were in fact free.  Though the Emancipation Proclamation was published in 1863 declaring that ‘all persons held as slaves’ within the rebellious states ‘are, and henceforward shall be free,’ not all states adhered to those orders declared by former President Abraham Lincoln.

It was not until June 19, 1865 — two and half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, and several months after the passing of the 13th Amendment — that all slaves were free. African Americans have celebrated the holiday yearly and on June 17, 2021, it officially became a U.S. holiday with the advocacy of activist Opal Lee, known as the grandmother of Juneteenth.

It became a holiday in Texas in 1980. Juneteenth is also called the second independence day. However, I would argue it is the first as civil rights movement leader Fannie Lou Hammer states,  “No one is free until everyone is free.”

What are ways we can celebrate Juneteenth?

There are many things locally you can do in San Francisco to celebrate Juneteenth. If you follow S.F. Black Wallstreet on Instagram, they have curated multiple programs you can do for the holiday.

You can also read and watch many things that document the history of Juneteenth, such as a Smithsonian Institution article on the historical legacy of Juneteenth and a piece by literary critic Henry Louis Gates, Jr. that explains what Juneteenth is as well as an interview with Lee.

What are some of your favorite memories of celebrating Juneteenth in the past?

My favorite memories of celebrating Juneteenth occurred when I was a fellow for the Institute for Social Justice and Race Relations at Jackson State University during the summer of 2022. We had special speakers discuss the importance of Juneteenth, there was live music, games and great food! It was truly an experience that joined knowledge of the historic moment and fun for all in a true community way.

How are you celebrating Juneteenth this year?

I'm joining the festivities in San Francisco. I would love to go to Galveston, Texas, the birthplace of Juneteenth to celebrate one day. There are several activities you can participate in there, including the Juneteenth Symposium “Sounds of Freedom.

What makes the holiday special and important to celebrate today?

It is important to know that the Emancipation Proclamation did not free all the slaves. Even though there were executive orders to do so, some plantation owners chose to withhold that information for fear of losing their labor. The holiday represents liberty for Black people in America. Even though there are continued challenges as it concerns racism and disenfranchisement, it is still seen as a victory that on June 19, 1865, all slaves were finally free.

Learn more about SF State’s Africana Studies Department.