BERKELEY -- The mellow sun-drenched Juneteenth crowd spread out Sunday along the five blocks of Adeline Street closed to vehicle traffic from Alcatraz Avenue to the Ashby BART station.

They danced to the rhythms of Thr3ee, Teana Boston and other local R&B, jazz and blues artists, eyed brightly colored dresses, handbags and jewelry, tasted the barbecue, picked up information on rent control and city parks, watched their children do flips at the bouncy houses or take on the challenge of a three-on-three basketball game. Some talked politics with elected officials -- or November hopefuls.

Tiffany Harris and her daughter Aliyaa Nelson, enjoy the annual Santa Cruz Juneteenth festival Saturday afternoon at Laurel Park.(Terri Morgan/For The
Tiffany Harris and her daughter Aliyaa Nelson, enjoy the annual Santa Cruz Juneteenth festival Saturday afternoon at Laurel Park. (Terri Morgan/For The Sentinel)

Juneteenth celebrates the message delivered to enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, June 19, 1865 that " ... in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor."

The message arrived late; President Abraham Lincoln had signed the emancipation proclamation two and one-half years earlier and the Civil War had ended more than two months before the proclamation was delivered.

"When we celebrate Juneteenth, we recognize that the value of freedom and information and justice is so important in the country," said Councilman Max Anderson, who was greeting constituents at the festival.

"However we celebrate it, it's important to understand that there's been a long, historical path that people have traveled," he said. "It's been a rocky road for a lot of people in this country, especially people of color. To be able, 150 years after the actual event that prompted Juneteenth, to celebrate that yearly is a constant reminder to people that the blessings of liberty are everyone's; and they need to be shared and they need to be defended and fought for."

Across the street, Dr. Vicki Alexander sat at a booth whose signage said "Berkeley vs. Big Soda." She was talking to people about the initiative that will be on the city's November ballot seeking to tax distributors of sugar-added drinks.

"As we all know, Juneteenth was the time when finally Texas, quote, 'freed' the slaves," she said.

"But the issues around discrimination against black people have continued, and it continues now in the form of marketing to African Americans and Latinos indiscriminately to get them to drink a deathly thing like a soda with fructose sugar and other kinds of sugar, that ends up causing diabetes, hypertension and tooth decay and death in our children at a younger and younger age."

Much of the broad street with its grassy median had been transformed into an African bazaar, lined with artful vendor displays of earrings, watercolors, statues and dresses.

This was Edna Burke's first festival. Burke, who lives in Stockton, makes handbags, some sturdy enough to tote 50 pounds. She calls her new business Edna's Dancing Threads.

"I try to make one bag of each fabric so no two ladies will have the same purse," she said, pointing to a large red bag with black etchings. Burke's partner, B. Scarlett of El Cerrito, makes quilts.

The duo doesn't plan to sell their work to stores. "We're just starting out," Burke said. "We are looking forward to just doing festivals. I like more person-to-person contact."

Mike Jeffison of Berkeley was among those standing near the Berkeley NAACP outreach table. He said Juneteenth is important especially to remind young people of their history.

"Today's students don't have the foundation of what was done during the civil rights era," he said, arguing that the schools need to do a better job teaching multicultural history.

"And if you don't know the past, you're going to fail in the future," he said.

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