This year marks the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth, and Richmond is pulling out all the stops for the occasion.
“Richmond has the biggest Juneteenth celebration in all of California,” boasts Jerrold Hatchett, the event’s organizer.
A century and a half ago, on June 19th, 1865, Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas to make an announcement: slavery was over, and it had been for two and a half years. The power of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation declared in January 1863 hadn’t weakened the Confederate stronghold in the Lone Star State. It is believed that the surrender of Confederate General Lee in 1865 allowed for the news of emancipation to spread westward, but the exact story of why it took so long is a little unclear.
“It’s like our Cinco de Mayo, or our July 4th. It’s a day for Black independence,” Hatchett says.
Hatchett is sometimes referred to as Mr. Juneteenth for his central role in the city’s event. Eleven years ago during a budget crisis the City of Richmond stopped funding Juneteenth, and the Hatchett and the Neighborhood Block Association (N.B.A.), a local community group, stepped up to the plate. Since then, the event has taken off, and today it stands as one of the biggest Juneteenth celebrations in the country.
Richmond’s community is central to the day’s celebrations. From oral histories about life as an African American in Richmond during previous generations, to youth poetry slams, to gospel performances from local churches, the scope of the city’s African American community is central to Richmond’s Juneteenth.
From bringing in musical guests, to organizing diverse food vendors, to gathering corporate sponsors, Hatchett and N.B.A. work to make Juneteenth Richmond’s biggest celebration.
Over 20,000 are expected to turn out for this year’s celebration. At the heart of Juneteenth is music, celebration, and — importantly — food. Many local restaurants, like Richmond’s own CJ’s Barbecue & Fish, are doing their part to bring festive treats, like barbecue lamb, pork, and beef.
It wouldn’t be Juneteenth without musical performances. Though it’s hard to top last year’s performance from En Vogue, blues legend Jesse James will headline the day’s event. There will also be a youth poetry slam, a dance contest, and dozens of local vendors.
Also central to Juneteenth is reflection on the progress of African Americans.
“We’ve come far in the past 150 years,” Hatchett says. “But if you look at media, if you look at what’s happening today, there is still a long way to go.”
Beyond the music, the food, and the fun —this is why Juneteenth is so important, explains Hatchett. “I feel that if you don’t know your history, it’s hard to find out where you’re going,” he says.
WHAT TO KNOW:
What: Juneteenth 2015
When: Saturday, June 20th, from 10 am to 6 pm
Where: The parade begins at Cutting Boulevard and Marina Way. The festival takes place at Nichol Park.