Members of the SambaFunk! collective dance and drum during the Berkeley Juneteenth Festival, on June 16, 2019. (Liliana Michelena/KQED)
Diversity and black pride were the focus of the 33rd annual Berkeley Juneteenth Festival, a celebration that took over three blocks in the Adeline-Alcatraz corridor of South Berkeley on Sunday.
To the sound of drums and raps, thousands celebrated the day — June 19, 1865 — that the last former slaves learned they were free, two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
Berkeley's festival, held annually since 1986 (save once in 2008) is the longest running Juneteenth celebration in Northern California and has come to commemorate not only black history and traditions, but also the preservation of community in light of increasing displacement.
"When I was a kid, South Berkeley was almost all black, and as a whole, the city was a lot more integrated and diverse," said Dakh Jones, a 40-year-old local entrepreneur.
Now raising a 6-year-old in North Berkeley, Jones said he did not fully realize the extent of the changes until he sent his son to school.
"If feels strange to feel like that in my own hometown, so I come to Juneteenth to celebrate my heritage, and to show my son what it used to be like," he said.
City Councilmember Ben Bartlett remembers how Berkeley was once known for its blackness.
"We were able to dig in and create our own economy and create prosperity on our own terms," he said.
Bartlett's family was one of the first black families to settle in South Berkeley. However, the Lorin District only became the center of black life in the city after the internment of the Japanese who used to own property there.
"Juneteenth is really an evolving concept," Bartlett said, "because while we're trapped in poverty and while we're not allowed to achieve the American dream and access the resources, we're not really free."
See more pictures and read more testimonies from the event below: