Felecia Fernandez, 67, first came to Leimert Park to celebrate Juneteenth more than 25 years ago.
Before the official Leimert Park Juneteenth Festival started, it was Jonathan Leonard, a local resident originally from Texas, who began the tradition in 1949. Since then, many in the community would gather at Leimert Park for informal barbecues and celebrations until the festival’s formal organization in 2018.
“To see where it has grown to today, it’s amazing,” Fernandez said.
Leonard passed away in 2017, but his memory is carried by his family who continue to attend the festival and run a stand dedicated to him where they giveaway ribs, watermelon and red soda for free. Fernandez, a volunteer at the stand and close family friend, reflected on what the festival would mean to him.
“If he were able to see what he has started has turned into such a large magnitude [event] of people coming here and then actually have it turned into a federal holiday, then he would surely be proud,” Fernandez said.
The Leimert Park Juneteenth Festival was just one of many events celebrating the holiday in Los Angeles and around the country. Along with Leimert Park’s celebration, you can find many others in and around L.A., whether you venture to the Greek Theatre, or to The Beehive in South L.A.
“You don’t see this many people in the streets,” said Warren G., a festival attendee. “You don’t see this much unity, peace and togetherness. This is awesome.”
Since the first official Leimert Park Juneteenth Celebration, South L.A. has been filled with energy as the streets of Leimert Park Village turn into the site of the annual block party filled with more than 300 Black-owned vendors showcasing art, food, drinks, clothing and more.
This year, tens of thousands of people attended to experience cultural foods, activities, and performances which took place in Leimert Park Village by Crenshaw Boulevard.
“It’s just a very friendly, family-oriented atmosphere,” said James Walt, a senior citizen who attended this year’s festival. “I think it would be great if somehow cities and towns could have more events where people can get together, be together and share together.”
Becoming a federal holiday in 2021, Juneteenth celebrates the anniversary of General Gordon Granger informing the last enslaved Americans in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865 that all slaves were free according to the Emancipation Proclamation. Although slaves were free more than two years before then, many slaves in the then-Confederate states were unaware their freedom had been granted until federal troops informed them.
“To understand Juneteenth is to understand that we are arriving but there is still a lot of work to do. It’s not just a federal holiday where we say, ‘It’s a good day for barbecue ribs,’” Fernandez said. “It’s the understanding of the struggle and the strive that African Americans have had to walk for all these years.”
Despite the countless aspects of Black culture highlighted throughout Leimert Park, Fernandez said it was the amount of attendees that truly made her proud of the event and where its history has brought it.
“Seeing families of all race, color and creed here to absorb the historic understanding and foundation that was placed by a mistake that now we can glorify it,” Fernandez said about her favorite part of the festival. “To see a day like this is pride and dignity.”
In 2022, performers across several stages of the festival included Malachiii, Masego, Smino and Buddy. This year, Philadelphia’s own Jazmine Sullivan was announced as the headliner, but did not end up performing due to safety issues involving crowd rushes.
This year’s festival had also booked major artists Wale and Kalan.Frfr. Additionally, large-scale sponsors such as Chase Bank and McDonald’s supported the annual event.
Along with the iconic celebration in Leimert Park, the city of L.A. was also lit up with energy from festivals all around the city, some of which will continue on throughout the week.
On Sunday, Los Angeles Center Studios became the stage for the two year anniversary and Juneteenth celebration of Black On The Block. The event took place from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. and featured DJ sets and performances from TiaCorine and Phabo.
On Monday, the Greek Theatre became the site of celebration as the event, “Juneteenth: A Global Celebration for Freedom,” unfolded at the outdoor amphitheater. This special event was organized by Live Nation Urban and Jesse Collins Entertainment, and broadcasted nationally by CNN. The electric evening event featured performances from musicians including Miguel, Nelly, SWV, Muni Long, Davido, Chloe Bailey and Coi Leray. Amongst the performances was a tribute to the late icon Tina Turner.
Looking forward, more celebrations of Juneteenth are still on the horizon. The Black Market Flea will be returning to celebrate both Juneteenth and its two-year anniversary. The monthly event features a large array of Black-owned businesses, ranging from clothing businesses to food vendors sporting different cuisines with options for everybody. Known for its vibrancy and high energy, this monthly event is returning in full swing on Saturday in honor of its anniversary, and it’s an event that you will not want to miss.