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Turnout Strong for Juneteenth Festivities

June 22, 1995|ERIN J. AUBRY and KELLY DAVID

Festivals celebrating Juneteenth, the date marking the freeing of American slaves 130 years ago, drew large crowds to two area parks in recent days.

In Leimert Park, a family picnic-style event on Monday featured free traditional Juneteenth fare--watermelon, strawberry soda and barbecue--as well as music and other entertainment.

The festival commemorated the day--June 19, 1865--when slaves throughout Texas and Louisiana learned that Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier, freeing them from slavery.

"It was great . . . we had a tremendous turnout. And the kids loved it," said Jonathan Leonard, who chaired the event. Leonard, a businessman and board member of the Crenshaw Chamber of Commerce, estimated the daylong festival drew almost 3,000 people.

Sponsors and participants included County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chief Executive Officer Franklin White and members of the Crenshaw Chamber of Commerce.

The event was coordinated by the Community Transportation Oversight Committee, a community liaison group to the MTA that includes Crenshaw-area residents.

Politicians and participants spoke on the festival's theme, "Transportation: Past, Present and Future," by detailing plans for the Crenshaw/Prairie corridor rail line and other projects.

In Santa Monica, more than 400 people celebrated Juneteenth at Virginia Park on Saturday with a barbecue and music featuring rhythm and blues, jazz and rap.

The event was opened by community activist Ron Wilkins, who explained the history of the freeing of the slaves.

Festivities included a youth basketball tournament, gospel performances by Friendship Baptist and Mt. Hermon Baptist churches, both of Venice, and dance routines by the Pearl White Theatre Group, a Venice youth group.

Long a popular holiday for African Americans in Texas and Louisiana, Juneteenth celebrations are gaining popularity in Southern California, said Carmen Graham, the event chairwoman for the Santa Monica-Venice branch of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People.

At the celebration, Santa Monica Mayor Paul Rosenstein declared this week, from June 17 to June 24, Juneteenth Week. Next year, the NAACP sponsors will extend the celebration, Graham said.

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