A Look at the Pain and Promise of Black History in Redlands, California

Don Simkovich

Photo of Israel Bael who moved to Redlands in the 1870sPhoto accessed via Storymaps and Black Redlands 1910, by Jesse Wims and Jennifer Tilton

Juneteenth is now the newest federal holiday after President Joe Biden signed a bill into law this week that was unanimously passed by the Senate and overwhelmingly passed in the House.

Juneteenth as an observance originated in Texas in 1980. It’s the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.

Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger of the Union Army informed enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, that the Civil War had ended and that they were free. Texas was the first state to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday, in 1980.

47 states already had official observances of the day while Texas, Virginia and New York had it as a paid holiday.

One of the people advocating for the occasion as a federal holiday included Opal Lee of Fort Worth, Texas who saw “the day as a unifier” because the slaves had help “from Quakers along the Underground Railroad, abolitionists both black and white like Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison, soldiers and many others who gave their lives for the freedom of the enslaved."

Five years ago, she walked from Fort Worth to the nation’s capitol as part of a campaign to make the date a national holiday.

University of Redlands Observance

In Southern California, the University of Redlands marked Juneteenth observances with an inaugural virtual three-day conference that was free for the public. Programs included:

· highlighting the Black Pages business directory, a business resource for the Inland Empire

· discussion on judicial diversity between Judge Gary Jackson, a pioneer within the Colorado judicial system and civil rights attorney Virgil Roberts

· a game with #culture tags to test cultural knowledge of Daily Sayings, Film and TV, Songs and Lyrics and more

· BlaQ Celebration and History, conversation with Evolve Benton, poet, speaker and healer

Juneteenth Contest

The University of Redlands is holding a contest for What Juneteenth Means to Me. Entrants can express their thoughts through an essay, art, poem or song. Winning selections will win a $200 Amazon gift card that was donated by The Sisterhood Book Club of Los Angeles.

Submit entries to juneteenth@redlands.edu by Monday, June 21.

A Positive Look at Black History in Redlands

In the early 1900s, Redlands was home to sprawling orange groves and a “vibrant early Black community that developed in the Inland Empire” as noted by the website Storymaps.arcgis.com.

African-Americans established two churches, the first Black newspaper and many Black homeowners created an energy that “connected residents to “communities in Riverside, Los Angeles and San Bernardino.”

Some of the residents accumulated significant wealth and property, running businesses and owning citrus groves.

There was a painful side that included a visible presence of the Ku Klux Klan when marches were held on three consecutive Fourth of July dates in 1925-1927. There were about 200 who took part, described by Redlands Daily Facts in a 2014 article.

The paper looked back and cited how African-Americans were often portrayed unfairly in newspaper accounts of events, so that was a reason they launched their own paper.

The university recently held a course on Black History in the Inland Empire that looked back on families and how they lived. The stories were brought to life using census records and podcasts in addition to oral and written historical accounts.

Jennifer Tilton is a professor of race and ethnic studies who taught the course and launched a partnership with the library at Cal State San Bernardino. Her goal is to change how local history is taught from kindergarten to high school throughout the Inland Empire.

Juneteenth is now the 11th federal holiday, following Martin Luther King Day which became the 10th federal holiday in 1983.

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I interview entrepreneurs, and dig into the news around Southern California, giving a voice to business owners, artists and more. I also co-write the thriller novel series Tom Stone Detective Stories.

Pasadena, CA

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