Juneteenth: The woman behind San Francisco's celebration and the hope for the future

Friday, June 19, 2020
The woman behind SF's Juneteenth celebration
Rachel Townsend is credited with keeping SF's Juneteenth celebration alive. Now she's being remembered as the nation commemorates the end of slavery in America.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in America. San Francisco began hosting a large celebration for it in the 1940's. It has changed since then and definitely is this year.

When you look at pictures from past Juneteenth celebrations in the Bay Area, they're full of joy and signs of hope. Reverend Arnold Townsend, Vice President of San Francisco's NAACP, recalls the annual event fondly. His daughter and Oakland native, Rachel Townsend, kept Juneteenth alive in San Francisco.

RELATED: What is Juneteenth? History, celebrations, future of the holiday celebrating the end of slavery

"She was a driving force," Rev. Arnold Townsend said. "Our mayor has made that statement."

Rachel's goal was to create a space for Black people in San Francisco. With the city's dwindling Black population, the annual Juneteenth celebration is like a community "watering hole" of sorts to support Black businesses, honor history, have fun and offer messages of hope for the future. Rachel Townsend was set on a better future. Sadly in 2018, Rachel Townsend died suddenly at age 38.

"For her to have that lasting legacy, obviously we didn't know she was going to pass, but since she did at such a young age, to have this to point to, something from the 1940's...I cannot believe what she was able to do single-handedly," Rev. Arnold Townsend said.

Join us here at 3 p.m. ET | 2 p.m. CT | noon PT on Friday, June 19, for a Q&A with Rachel Jones, a contributing writer for National Geographic. She recently wrote about why Juneteenth is a celebration of hope, reporting that can be found at NationalGeographic.com.

He's moved by the powerful push for racial justice we're continuing to watch unfold across the country. The movement is morphing Juneteenth into a nationwide call to action. "Sixnineteen" was a planned demonstration at the White House, that has now inspired events all over the country, including the Bay Area.

Coleman Advocates for Youth and Children is hosting one at San Francisco's City Hall.

"We've all been doing this work for a long time," Mildred Coffey of Coleman Advocates said. "It's just come to a point where we have urgency- a call to action to stop the oppression, the injustices, the disproportionate things that effect Black and Brown students and our families."

RELATED: Bay Area marches, rallies and events to mark Juneteenth

This year we expect Juneteenth to look and feel different. When asked what his daughter would think, Rev. Arnold Townsend replied, "She had been hoping and praying to see the same kind of thing for so long. She would have been a big part of this. I used to say to her jokingly, and other young people...'When are y'all going to get mad?'"

Looks like some people are finally mad and ready to join the fight that's been going on for decades.