Juneteenth returns to live celebrations in Berkeley

Festivities returned to the Adeline Corridor, two years after the pandemic forced it online and the first since it became a federal holiday.

35th Annual Berkeley Juneteenth Festival 2022
Anita Fowler dances as her mother Gracie Stover (middle) watches during Berkeley’s 35th Juneteenth Festival on Sunday, June 19, 2022. They traveled from Marin City to support and listen to the Saint Gabriel’s Celestial Brass Band. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/Catchlight

The Juneteenth festival roared back to Berkeley on a warm and sunny Sunday as hundreds of people celebrated the federal holiday in person.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the festivities online two years ago. A year after President Joe Biden designated Juneteenth a national holiday to commemorate when enslaved people in Texas were told they were free, a day of celebration returned to the Adeline Corridor, where the event has been held for 35 years. 

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when news reached Galveston, Texas, that Black Americans were free from bondage, two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, officially ending chattel slavery. 

On that day in 1865, U.S. Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger came to Texas to issue General Order No. 3:

“The people of Texas are informed 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.”

Coincidentally, Texas became the first state to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday in 1980.

35th Annual Berkeley Juneteenth Festival 2022
Volunteers Jewel Baker (from left) and Taylor Johnson, both 16, at the Kid Zone, a learning space for children, during Berkeley’s 35th Juneteenth Festival on the Adeline Corridor, Sunday, June 19, 2022. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/Catchlight

Pandemic aside, this is the 35th year Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day and Emancipation Day, has been celebrated in Berkeley. Born in 1987 by the Adeline-Alcatraz Merchants Association, it is among the longest-running Juneteenth festival in Northern California.

For some, the day has become more significant since it became a federal holiday last year.

“I think it’s an important thing that Americans are celebrating us, as it is for us to celebrate ourselves,” said festival organizer Delores Nochi Cooper. “It means a lot for African Americans, period. It’s about the struggle we went through, the fact that we preserved through all of that struggle, and we are out as a whole people.

“It’s about remembering our ancestors and celebrating the Black experience. I can imagine in 1865, the first Juneteenth committee was just celebrating freedom.” 

The festival included two stages with local musicians performing, a kids zone and dozens of vendors selling everything from jewelry to clothing to food.

Charmaine Robinson, a regular at the Berkeley Juneteenth Festival, was happy to see it return.

“Berkeley has always been the best Juneteenth,” said Robinson, a Berkeley High School grad who now lives in Oakland. “It’s organized, and they have more artists here.”

Cooper said that after two years of being cooped up, “people were ready to be out and hear some good music. So luckily, the weather cooperated.” 

35th Annual Berkeley Juneteenth Festival 2022
Yvonne Cagle, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and NASA astronaut, talks to children at the Kids STEM Zone booth during the Juneteenth celebration on Sunday, June 19, 2022. “It is important for our future to inspire and to teach how to explore new horizons and preserve the environment,” Cagle said. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/Catchlight