San Francisco's Juneteenth, a commemoration of the end of slavery, is one of the largest gatherings of African Americans in California every year. This year's Juneteenth parade was named in honor of Rachel Townsend, a leader in San Francisco's black community who died of sudden illness in 2018. Townsend was active in San Francisco and Oakland politics and fought to keep Juneteenth in San Francisco despite the city's shrinking black population.
"The Juneteenth festival wouldn't have even happened all of those years had it not been for Rachel Townsend," said San Francisco Mayor London Breed in December 2018. That's when the city rededicated a Western Addition affordable housing complex after Townsend, honoring her work in the community.
Townsend attended her first Juneteenth when she was three. Even as a kid, her father said she was a leader with a big heart. One of the things she was most proud of was her work at a local San Francisco church, working with young girls without fathers. She campaigned for black local candidates like London Breed, advocating for diverse political representation.
"If she sees something undone or not being done correctly, she doesn't complain, she just gets in the middle of it," said Rev. Arnold Townsend, vice president of San Francisco's NAACP and Rachel Townsend's father. "That's who she was: she was an organizer."
Townsend grew up in Oakland and was surrounded by political activism in San Francisco. Her dad, vice president of San Francisco's NAACP, said Townsend grew up at a time of rapid change in San Francisco's black communities.