Barbecue smoke and the howl of James Brown hung thick in the air in San Francisco’s Fillmore district Saturday as thousands turned out to celebrate African American culture and freedom.
The 57th annual Juneteenth festival, commemorating the day in June 1865 when Texas slaves received word of the Emancipation Proclamation, featured everything from Dixieland to hyphy, sweet potato pie to fair-trade Rwandan coffee.
“Juneteenth helps remind us of our past and celebrates our freedom. It’s our Fourth of July,” said Gloria Jane Murphy, an artist and poet from Oakland. “It’s also good to share our culture with others, and see people partake and learn and enjoy themselves.”
The oldest and largest Juneteenth festival outside Texas, San Francisco’s celebration had a distinctly local flavor Saturday. Mixed with the African American cultural offerings were Tibetan jewelry, Filipino lumpia and pamphleteers from the San Francisco Green Party.
“It’s symbolic of people coming together to acknowledge what Juneteenth means,” said Leamond McGriff of San Francisco, who was staffing the NAACP booth. “It’s a positive, festive event, a chance for the kids to get involved and learn about the history. We don’t have enough events like this.”
For Angela Bibb-Merritt of San Francisco, Juneteenth is more than a cultural celebration—it’s a political event. Racism and discrimination against African Americans are issues as relevant and urgent today as they were in 1865, she said.
“Our blood, sweat and tears laid the foundation of America,” she said, waving flyers promoting slavery reparations for African Americans. “After 250 years of slavery and 140 years of its aftermath, where’s our compensation? Where is the equality?”