PHOTOS: Berkeley Juneteenth Festival Celebrates Black Pride and Community in the Face of Displacement

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.

Roughly one-fifth of Berkeley's population in the 1980 census, African Americans now represent only 8.6% of the city.

"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.

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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:

Dakh Jones and his son Enrico (and a Juneteenth photobomber) celebrate black pride in South Berkeley, where Jones was born and raised. 'It's significant that this celebration has not completely phased out, that it's still important for the Berkeley city,' he said.
Dakh Jones and his son Enrico (and a Juneteenth photobomber) celebrate black pride in South Berkeley, where Jones was born and raised. 'It's significant that this celebration has not completely phased out, that it's still important for the Berkeley city,' he said. (Liliana Michelena/KQED)
Frank Bodden aka Papa Smurf has been a regular at Berkeley Juneteenth for 20 years. He remembers his youth traveling up and down Adeline Street. 'The black population in the Bay Area is getting smaller, but we're like roaches — we know how to survive.'
Frank Bodden aka Papa Smurf has been a regular at Berkeley Juneteenth for 20 years. He remembers his youth traveling up and down Adeline Street. 'The black population in the Bay Area is getting smaller, but we're like roaches — we know how to survive.' (Liliana Michelena/KQED)
'This is my Independence Day,' says Akilah Shaheed (L), Office Manager for Health Black Families Inc., pictured with her mother Jeanine. 'Every year we celebrate Juneteenth knowing every physical slave was released.'
'This is my Independence Day,' says Akilah Shaheed (L), Office Manager for Health Black Families Inc., pictured with her mother Jeanine. 'Every year we celebrate Juneteenth knowing every physical slave was released.' (Liliana Michelena/KQED)
'In my mind, [Juneteenth] is the actual independence day of America, the day that all of us became free,' said city councilman Ben Bartlett. He became a city councilmember several years ago when his own mother was facing displacement.
'In my mind, [Juneteenth] is the actual independence day of America, the day that all of us became free,' said city councilman Ben Bartlett. He became a city councilmember several years ago when his own mother was facing displacement. (Liliana Michelena/KQED)
Former rent board commissioner Christina Murphy (L) and Margy Wilkinson (R), both Berkeley residents, used the Juneteenth festival to raise awareness of affordable housing. 'This whole area used to give back to families of low income and people of color,' said Murphy. 'When they started displacing people and taking out the businesses, we started losing the colors of Juneteenth.'
Former rent board commissioner Christina Murphy (L) and Margy Wilkinson (R), both Berkeley residents, used the Juneteenth festival to raise awareness of affordable housing. 'This whole area used to give back to families of low income and people of color,' said Murphy. 'When they started displacing people and taking out the businesses, we started losing the colors of Juneteenth.' (Liliana Michelena/KQED)
Rapper and educator Brandon 'Griot B' Brown moved to the Bay Area from Los Angeles to further his message of emancipation of the people of color. 'At Berkeley Juneteenth, the elders can show their roots and transmit it to us, the transplants and the people that were displaced,' he said. 'This is how we say, "We are still here."'
Rapper and educator Brandon 'Griot B' Brown moved to the Bay Area from Los Angeles to further his message of emancipation of the people of color. 'At Berkeley Juneteenth, the elders can show their roots and transmit it to us, the transplants and the people that were displaced,' he said. 'This is how we say, "We are still here."' (Liliana Michelena/KQED)
Gloria Haney raised her kids in Berkeley before moving to El Sobrante. 'I've been coming to Juneteenth from the very beginning,' she said. 'My father was alive then, and he would fly up from L.A., and this is where he would sit. He's gone on to meet the Lord, and we're taking over and continuing on.'
Gloria Haney raised her kids in Berkeley before moving to El Sobrante. 'I've been coming to Juneteenth from the very beginning,' she said. 'My father was alive then, and he would fly up from L.A., and this is where he would sit. He's gone on to meet the Lord, and we're taking over and continuing on.' (Liliana Michelena/KQED)
Approximately 3,000 people, including Bay Area elders and families, celebrated Juneteenth in South Berkeley on June 16, 2019.
Approximately 3,000 people, including Bay Area elders and families, celebrated Juneteenth in South Berkeley on June 16, 2019. (Liliana Michelena/KQED)
The event included live musical and dance performances by local artists, open sports and bouncy houses, as well as food vendors and commercial stands.
The event included live musical and dance performances by local artists, open sports and bouncy houses, as well as food vendors and commercial stands. (Liliana Michelena/KQED)

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