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A Joyous Juneteenth : Thousands Converge on Crenshaw District Park to Join African American Celebration of Freedom

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The smoky smell of a barbecue wafted through the air Wednesday in Leimert Park in the Crenshaw district, signaling to the community the start of the Juneteenth celebration.

“It’s emancipation day!” said Emmett Cash III, the coordinator of a giant picnic that attracted thousands of community residents. “June 19 is a very special day.”

For the record:

12:00 AM, Jun. 21, 1996 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday June 21, 1996 Home Edition Metro Part B Page 3 Metro Desk 2 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
Juneteenth--Because of an editing error, a story in Thursday’s Times incorrectly described the meaning of Juneteenth. The holiday commemorates the day that slaves in Texas learned belatedly of the Emancipation Proclamation, which had been signed by President Abraham Lincoln two years earlier.

Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 that slaves in Texas belatedly received the news that the North had won the Civil War, giving them their freedom.

Ever since, African Americans--particularly those in the wide band of the South and Southwest from Louisiana to California--have marked the date.

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There were numerous Juneteenth celebrations Wednesday in Southern California. It was the third year that businessman Jonathan Leonard had thrown a bash in Leimert Park.

The theme of this year’s picnic, co-sponsored by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, was “Science, Transportation and Communication.”

Youngsters were treated to a show about graffiti featuring puppets shaped like buses and were invited to board a mock-up of a Blue Line train and a bus that was used in the 1960s.

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Between 2,000 and 3,000 people attended Wednesday’s celebration, helping themselves to free ribs, watermelon and red soda, symbolizing the food slave owners gave their slaves on the day they were freed, explained Mwalimu Evans, director of a private school in Compton.

Evans’ students were among the hundreds of schoolchildren from across the Los Angeles area who came to Leimert Park to participate in the celebration. Many of them had spent the previous week learning about Juneteenth and other important moments in African American history.

Students from Russell Elementary School in the Firestone district presented several speeches about African Americans.

Joshua Baker, 9, talked about Martin Luther King Jr., saying he is “sort of like my idol.” Two other students spoke about civil rights ground-breaker Rosa Parks. “I think she is a lady who stood up for herself,” said Grace Key, 9.

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Students at Uhuru Shule, a small independent black school in South-Central Los Angeles, were eager to talk about the holiday.

“My grandmother told me about it,” said Chijioke Sadiki, 9, explaining that his grandmother was from Texas. “She said a man came to Texas and told the Africans that they were free today.”

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Uhuru coordinator Vusi Azania said his students, who range from toddlers to eighth-graders, have been studying the Civil War and are all familiar with the historic significance of Juneteenth.

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“This is beautiful,” said James Norris, 67, as he rested in the shade, watching a group of schoolchildren splashing each other at the park’s fountain. “People are celebrating all over Los Angeles. Barbecues, dancing and going out.”

On a bench near the barbecue, a group of women chatted, waiting their turn for some soda and melon.

Mary Jane Ricks-Wade, 64, proudly announced that her birthday is also June 19 and said she always combines her birthday celebration with Juneteenth. Both she and her friend Audrey Quarles grew up in Texas and were pleased to see that Juneteenth celebrations were catching on in Los Angeles.

Ricks-Wade said she makes a point of telling her grandchildren about the meaning of Juneteenth. “They know all about it,” she said.

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