‘Putting people more together’: Berkeley Juneteenth Festival highlights Black community pride

Yasmin Graeml/Staff

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The Berkeley Juneteenth Festival, which celebrates the emancipation of slaves in the United States, took place Sunday at the intersection of Alcatraz Avenue and Adeline Street.

Officially, slavery ended in the United States on Jan. 1, 1863, but the news of the Emancipation Proclamation did not reach many slaves in Texas until June 19, 1865. June 19 is now called Juneteenth and is celebrated across the country by the Black community.

In Berkeley, Juneteenth has been celebrated since 1987 as a way of promoting community pride and bringing South Berkeley businesses together. Organized by Berkeley Juneteenth Cultural Celebrations, the event was attended by Black community vendors, artists, musicians, social organizations and visitors.

Born in Nigeria and currently living in the United States, Ifafunke Oladigbolu has a shop specializing in Nigerian clothes in Berkeley called Lola’s African Apparel. Oladigbolu, who has been displaying her designs at the event for the past four years, said the event is getting more popular and more organized and that getting a spot to display has become more competitive. For her, Juneteenth goes beyond celebrating the end of slavery.

“It is a very specific day for Black people to get together and celebrate themselves, celebrate not only freedom from slavery or all the bad things, but a community event,” Oladigbolu said.

At the event, vendors, artists, musicians and social organizations all gathered together in the space with games, arts and crafts, food and drinks, and live performances on the festival’s multiple stages. According to the event’s organizers, 2019’s Juneteenth Festival featured 150 vendors and was populated by about 3,500 attendees.

The event has been happening in Berkeley for more than 30 years, and according to Roberta Murdock, who has been a Juneteenth attendee many times in the past, the 2019 festival was the biggest so far.

“I’ve been here around 20 times, and this is the largest I ever seen,” Murdock said, adding that she believed that the political atmosphere that the United States is experiencing is making the community stand together more.

“At the time that we are in, with the administration that we have, I think (Juneteenth) is putting people more together,” Murdock said.

Contact Yasmin Cristina Graeml at [email protected].