Juneteenth 2020 in the Bay Area: What to Know, Where to Go

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Dakh Jones and his son Enrico (and a Juneteenth photobomber) celebrate Black pride in South Berkeley at the 2019 Berkeley Juneteenth Festival. (Liliana Michelena/KQED)

Follow our coverage of the Bay Area's Juneteenth marches, protests and celebrations here.

Every year on June 19, Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States in 1865 — and this year, the date carries a historic intensity.

In 2020, Juneteenth celebrations of Black pride, history and resilience come after weeks of continuing widespread protests against the killing of Black people by police. Not only that, it's against a backdrop of a global pandemic that has been proven to affect Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) disproportionately, and altered many people's daily lives and experience of community beyond recognition.

Juneteenth may look (and feel) different in many ways this year, but the Bay Area is still honoring the significance, weight and joyousness of this date with celebrations, protests and socially-distanced virtual events.

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The Meaning of Juneteenth

Juneteenth is also referred to by some as Emancipation Day or Freedom Day. Taking its name from "June" and "nineteenth," Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 that enslaved people in Texas finally learned they were free, and that the Civil War had ended. Union solders in Galveston, Texas delivered this message an incredible two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863. Let's just say there are several theories around this delay.

An 1864 print of the Emancipation Proclamation by Louis Lipman. (Library of Congress)

The name of Juneteenth was invoked on the political stage last week, when President Donald Trump announced his decision to hold a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma on June 19. In 1921, Tulsa was the site of a race massacre in which white antagonists killed hundreds of Black residents, and destroyed their homes and businesses. Trump's choice of location and date outraged many as either a gross insensitivity or a deliberate provocation. The rally was later moved to the day after Juneteenth.

The Bay Area has honored Juneteenth with community celebrations and public gatherings for decades. San Francisco's Juneteenth Celebration has traditionally been one of the largest gatherings of African Americans in California every year. And in the East Bay, thousands of people come together each year for Berkeley’s annual Juneteenth Festival.

Members of the SambaFunk! collective perform during the 2019 Berkeley Juneteenth Festival. (Courtesy Delores Nochi Cooper)

This week's episode of our Bay Curious podcast speaks to Delores Nochi Cooper, who's organized Berkeley's Juneteeth event for over 30 years: read and hear the story here. This past episode of KQED's The Bay podcast also explores the life and legacy of Rachel Townsend, the Oakland-raised activist who fought to keep Juneteenth in San Francisco despite the city's shrinking Black population, before her death from a sudden illness in 2018.

Who Gets Juneteenth as a Holiday?

While almost every U.S. state recognizes Juneteenth as a ceremonial holiday — including California, since 2003 — that doesn't mean residents get Juneteenth as a paid day off. Only Texas made Juneteenth a paid state holiday, in 1980, but Virginia's governor moved to follow its lead this week by declaring Friday an official holiday. That move only gives state employees a paid day off, but companies are encouraged to follow suit. California shows no signs of designating Juneteenth a state holiday... yet.

In the Bay Area, several workplaces are designating Juneteenth as a paid day off for employees for this first time this year, including social media companies. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced that Twitter and Square would make the date a company holiday "forevermore," while Facebook told TechCrunch that it'll commemorate Juneteenth this year with "a day of learning" (rather than a paid day off) for employees. This will entail "canceling all meetings and engaging in conversation about the history, experiences and issues that Black Americans still face."

Could Juneteenth become a national holiday in the U.S.? Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), who has introduced a resolution to recognize the date's historical significance every year since 2013, says she's planning to introduce legislation this week that would making Juneteenth a national holiday.

Speaking to The Huffington Post this week, Lee said: “I cannot imagine this nation healing from the enormous and penetrating impact of race, racism and the history of slavery without officially acknowledging a day in the nation’s history that really speaks to freedom and independence for those who carried the burden of slavery."

Honor Juneteenth Virtually

Most years, Juneteenth celebrations in the Bay Area are all about coming together in person to celebrate Black community, culture and history — but the coronavirus pandemic means that many local events are happening virtually.

Marcus Shelby leads a Zoom presentation of live music, readings and poetry delving into Juneteenth's history and its resonance today. (MoAD)

Our colleagues at KQED Arts have compiled this list of online events you can join and stream free. Highlights include:

  • Jazz legend Marcus Shelby's "Juneteenth and the Blues," delving into Juneteenth's history and resonance with live music, readings and poetry
  • A streamed performance of Vincent Terrell Durham’s play, Polar Bears, Black Boys & Prairie Fringed Orchids, a meditation on police killings of Black people and the Black Lives Matter movement
  • A special broadcast of the Other Minds radio show exploring the music of Black American composers including Matana Roberts, Moor Mother and Ben LaMar Gay.

Due to shelter-in-place orders still in effect around the U.S., a host of national Juneteenth events are now available to experience online in a way they perhaps wouldn't have been previously. For example, via SixNineteen's map, you can join an online Juneteenth demonstration in Baltimore, or a virtual house party marking the day in Georgia.

Honor Juneteenth in Person...

While many of the Bay Area's Juneteenth events have opted go virtual this year to limit the spread of the coronavirus, again, there are still in-person gatherings, protests and celebrations to mark Juneteenth taking place on Friday and across the weekend.

Darius (left), Noema and their family joined the caravan of vehicles that lined up at the Port of Oakland before driving to Oakland and circling Lake Merritt on Sunday May 31, 2020 to protest the killing of George Floyd and other Black people at the hands of the police.
Darius (left), Noema and their family, who joined the caravan of vehicles that lined up at the Port of Oakland on May 31, 2020 to protest the killing of George Floyd and other Black people at the hands of the police. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Highlights from this event roundup from KQED Arts include:

  • Oakland: Juneteenth West Coast Port Shutdown & Caravan to Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland
  • Oakland: Rally for Huey P. Newton Monument with Fredrika Newton at Alameda County Courthouse
  • Oakland: "Black Mass" Juneteenth Spoken Word & Drum Circle at Lake Merritt Amphitheater
  • San Francisco: March for Freedom & Justice from Ferry Building to City Hall
  • Palo Alto: Defend Black Lives Protest at City Hall

See our longer list of gatherings, protests and celebrations here.

...But Stay Safe Doing It

If you decide to attend a Juneteenth celebration this weekend, or to join a protest or march, it's important to stay as safe as possible and limit your risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19. That means:

  • Wear your mask: It reduces your risk of transmitting COVID-19, and signals to your fellow Juneteenth attendees that you value their health.
  • Maintain social distancing: Even in crowds, stay 6 feet away from folks who aren't in your household.
  • Bring hand sanitizer: Washing your hands at a gathering without maintained bathroom areas might prove difficult.
  • If you're feeling unwell, don't go: Opt to stay home, and protect the health of your fellow participants by choosing to honor the date online instead.
Chelsea Riley (right) and her father James Riley line up to receive free hand sanitizer and a face mask in the Fillmore on April 17, 2020.
Chelsea Riley (right) and her father James Riley line up to receive free hand sanitizer and a face mask in the Fillmore on April 17, 2020. If you're intending to join a gathering or protest, remember to observe COVID-19 safety practices. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

If the event you're attending is a protest, read our guide on protesting safely before you leave home.

If you're an ally seeking to further educate yourself about anti-racism, or looking for local organizations supporting the Black community, take a look at our guide to 5 Ways to Show Up For Racial Justice Today.