'Becoming free in our country': Bay Area communities celebrate Juneteenth

ByRyan Curry, Tim Johns KGO logo
Thursday, June 20, 2024
'Becoming free': Bay Area communities celebrate Juneteenth
For more than one-and-a-half centuries, Juneteenth has been sacred to many Black communities. Here's a look at how the Bay Area honored the holiday celebrating freedom.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- For more than one-and-a-half centuries, the Juneteenth holiday has been sacred to many Black communities.

It marks the day in 1865 enslaved people in Galveston, Texas found out they had been freed - after the end of the Civil War, and two years after President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation.

Since it was designated a federal holiday in 2021, Juneteenth has become more universally recognized beyond Black America. Many people get the day off work or school, and there are a plethora of street festivals, fairs, concerts and other events.

Many Juneteenth celebrations were also held throughout the Bay Area. Here's a look:

Art installation recreated at SF's Golden Gate Park

King's art stood here at Golden Gate Park until earlier this year. On Wednesday, she wanted to re-create it once again in honor of the holiday. This time with real people - namely Black women.

It was an emotional commemoration of Juneteenth at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park Wednesday. Hundreds gathered for song, speeches and to help recreate a live art installation in honor of the holiday.

"Let's talk about the harm, let's talk about the generational terror. Let's talk about how it impacts people today," said Dana King.

King is the artist behind the installation.

She says back in 2020, protesters tore down a statue of known slave owner and Star Spangled Banner author Francis Scott Key. It was part of a nationwide movement, sparked by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

A year later, King created a new work of art around the plinth where Key's statue once stood. This time, with a nod to Juneteenth.

"In 2021, I surrounded that plinth with 350 ancestral figures that represent the business of slavery," King said.

King's art stood here at Golden Gate Park until earlier this year.

VIDEO: Opal Lee, Grandmother of Juneteenth, moves into new house on site of burned childhood home in Texas

Opal Lee, the 97-year-old Grandmother of Juneteenth who pushed to make it a national holiday, moved into a new house on the site of her burned childhood home in Fort Worth, Texas.

On Wednesday, she wanted to re-create it once again in honor of the holiday.

This time with real people - namely Black women.

"Children were taken from us. We were raped by our enslavers. We were purchased to bring new life into chattel slavery," said King.

King says the work she's been able to do over the past few years wouldn't have been possible without the help of the city.

MORE: Thousands commemorate Juneteenth Freedom Celebration with music, food and festivities in SF

Phil Ginsburg is the general manager of the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department. He says he's proud the city has taken a leading role nationwide on the topic of social justice.

"Parks are the most democratic institution we have left. It is where we are all equal, and equally welcome. And representation does matter," Ginsburg said.

As for King, she says even though this was a one day only recreation, her work is far from done. She plans on continuing to use her art as a way to express her beliefs and her culture.

"It's not over. Because oppression still exists, in this country and around the world."

Remembrance and celebration in the East Bay

Several East Bay cities celebrated Juneteenth Wednesday. Off Highway 4 between Concord and Pittsburg, the East Bay Regional Park District brought a few dozen people to the future sight of Thurgood Marshall Park to remember the Port Chicago disaster.

"Your eyes can be so heavy no tears will flow," said Virgie Patterson-Newman from Brentwood. "Well, my eyes were absolutely heavy hearing the stories and seeing the pictures."

In 1944, a munitions explosion killed over 300 Navy sailors. Over 200 of them were Black. Unsafe procedures were found to be the cause but not addressed by the Navy. Months later, 50 sailors were charged with mutiny after raising safety concerns.

"They were ultimately asked to continue loading munitions and not given proper training," said Yulie Padmore, the executive director of the Port Chicago Alliance.

"They were told if they did not continue loading munitions they would be convicted."

Attendees read some of the 50 men whose convictions still hold to this day. They discussed why this story is important to the history of the Bay Area. They say on Juneteenth, everyone needs to know about this story.

MORE: What's open, what's closed on Juneteenth 2024

"We can become more involved in advocating for the Chicago's port 50 exoneration," Patterson-Newman said.

While the focus there was on remembering a tragic event there, other places held celebrations. Hella Juneteenth went on for the fourth straight year in Oakland. Hundreds came out for outdoor games, music and food from local Black chefs.

"We wanted to create a Black space here that is built around family community and food and fun and joy," said Ryan Royster, the event organizer.

To him, this is the day to celebrate freedom in the United States.

"Juneteenth is everyone becoming free in our country," he said. "This is the 'American Promise' being actualized and we get to see that in real time and real life."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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