Juneteenth event to bring thousands to Richmond’s Nicholl Park

Richmond cheerleaders at last year's Juneteenth parade.  (Photo by Veronica Moscoso)

Richmond cheerleaders at last year's Juneteenth parade. (Photo by Veronica Moscoso)

On Saturday, Richmond will kick off its annual Juneteenth festival with a parade, two stages of music, activities for kids and a host of food vendors in Nicholl Park.

Juneteenth commemorates the announcement of slavery’s abolition in Texas in 1865.  Two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, slavery was still prevalent in parts of Texas, so Union General Gordon Granger was dispatched with 2,000 federal troops to take possession of the state and enforce the emancipation of enslaved African-Americans.

On June 19th, 1865, Gen. Granger arrived in the city of Galveston, and announced that all slaves were now free.  “This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves,” his order read, “and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.”

Juneteenth celebrations started in Texas and spread throughout the country as African-Americans migrated out of the state, said Latressa Alford, a volunteer with the National Brotherhood Association, the Richmond group that organizes the city’s festival.  “Particularly in California, because there’s a lot of people here with roots in Texas,” she said.  “It’s like a second Fourth of July for us.”

In Richmond, the holiday has grown to massive proportions.  Alford said that Richmond’s festival has become the largest Juneteenth celebration in the Bay Area.  “The largest at one time was San Jose and then San Francisco, but Richmond has basically surpassed everyone now,” she said.  Alford said she expects between 20,000 to 30,000 people to come to the festivities on Saturday.

The day starts at 11:30 with a parade, which leaves from the intersection of Cutting Boulevard and Marina Way, and ends at Nicholl Park. Fred Davis Jackson, a long-time community activist, will be the grand marshal of the parade.

At the park, two stages will host gospel, hip-hop, R&B and soul music from a variety of local and national artists.  Lenny Williams, who was the lead singer of Tower of Power, will return to the festival.  Miki Howard, who had a string of Top 10 hit singles in the ‘80s and ‘90s, will perform, and so will local gospel group Consonance.  On the youth stage, younger performers like Sammie and Young Bari will perform along with a host of other entertainers from around the bay. There will also be a variety of games and activities for kids, Alford said.

The day’s events will include a commemoration of Richmond’s African-American history.  “Because it’s a celebration of African-American history, we usually have our ‘Richmond’s firsts’—the first African-Americans in their particular fields,” she said.  This year, Sylvester Greenwood, the first black superintendant of the former Richmond school district, who died recently, will be honored.

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