South L.A.’s Leimert Park honors Juneteenth with a bustling festival and a reopened park

Crowds of people converge on Degnan Boulevard for a Juneteenth festival in Leimert Park on Saturday.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

For the Rev. Jonathan Moseley, there was so much to celebrate.

Leimert Plaza Park, located in the cultural heart of Black Los Angeles, reopened Saturday after a three-year closure. The Leimert Park business district was bustling, with crowds descending on a street festival honoring Juneteenth, the long-celebrated holiday marking the freeing of slaves in the U.S. — and now the newest federal holiday.

Moseley, who has lived in the area since 1961, welcomed all those things. But the 66-year-old, recovering from an infection in his ankle, was also delighted to see an end to the isolation imposed during COVID-19.

“We can see people again, talk to people again, touch people again,” said Moseley, sitting in the park and holding a pair of crutches. “To see this rebirth, even in my state of injury, I didn’t want to miss it.”

Hundreds of people descended on Leimert Park Village on Saturday, taking in the festival, the music, the local businesses and the newly renovated park. For many, the mood was jubilant.

South L.A. resident Jonathan Moseley relaxes in Leimert Park, which reopened in on Saturday.
The Rev. Jonathan Moseley relaxes in Leimert Park, which reopened in conjunction with Juneteenth festivities in Los Angeles on Saturday. He has lived in the area since 1961.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Children rode horseback and played with toy hoops as a DJ played Donna Summer and Chaka Khan. Sidewalk vendors sold drumsticks covered with an apricot glaze and pound cakes tucked neatly into to-go containers.

The park’s signature fountain was again flowing with water, though more repairs will be needed. And Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who lives in Leimert Park, promised more big changes for the area.

Construction crews continue working on a Metro light rail station on Crenshaw Boulevard, across the street from the park. Renovations are underway at the Vision Theatre, an Art Deco and Spanish Colonial landmark, which faces the park as well.

City leaders are planning to spend more than $35 million on tree plantings, sidewalk repairs and other neighborhood improvements — a figure that does not include the Metro rail work, Ridley-Thomas said.

“We have an opportunity to cause this to be, yet again, one of the premier destinations in the city of Los Angeles,” he said.

A motorcade of people celebrating Juneteenth makes its way down Crenshaw Boulevard in Leimert Park on Saturday.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Leimert Plaza Park closed in 2018, partly because it “fell on hard times” and partly because it had attracted homeless encampments, Ridley-Thomas said. In recent months, outreach workers succeeded in relocating 75 unhoused people in the area into shelter or housing, he said.

Saturday’s street festival was one of several events in Southern California honoring Juneteenth, which celebrates the day in June 1865 when Union soldiers brought news of the end of slavery to enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, after the surrender of the Confederacy.

President Biden signed legislation on Thursday making Juneteenth the nation’s 12th federal holiday, the first to be added to the nation’s calendar since 1983.

In Leimert Park, the day’s celebrations kicked off with a string of speeches that stressed Black Americans’ struggle for freedom, voting rights and economic justice, as well as the heavy toll taken by COVID-19. Speakers highlighted the importance of the park, which has been the site of Juneteenth celebrations for several decades.

Singer Sonia Harley performs during Juneteenth celebrations in Leimert Park on Saturday.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Aminah Muhammad, president of the Leimert Park Village Merchants Assn., described the park as a refuge and a place for reflection. She led the crowd in a chant of “freedom, justice, equality,” then urged festival-goers to support neighborhood businesses.

“Why do we love Leimert? Because it resonates with our soul,” said Muhammad, owner of Queen Aminah’s Cultural Clothing. “You come here, you have a feeling of freedom. You have a feeling of self, you have a feeling of self-worth, because this is our community.”

Not long after that, a ribbon was cut and the gates of the park were flung upon, to the cheers of the crowd and some furious drumming.

Crystal Davis, who has come to the park for Juneteenth off and on since the 1990s, was thrilled with the park’s reopening — and the day’s festivities overall. Of all the Juneteenth celebrations in the park, Saturday’s was the largest she had seen.

“This is what we need to unite us — all colors,” the professional singer said. “Food, music and laughter.”