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San Francisco kicks off Juneteenth festivities by showcasing Black-owned businesses

A woman in a patterned dress speaks into a microphone and raises a drink. Behind her, gold balloons spell "JUNETEENTH." A bridge and a green tent are visible in the background.
Mayor London Breed raises a toast to celebrate the 21 Black-owned businesses that participated in the popup market that kicked off a month of Juneteenth events. | Source: Jackson Stephens/The Standard

While Juneteenth became a federal holiday just a few years ago, San Francisco has been observing Emancipation Day with parties, parades and other events since 1945. Seventy-nine years later, the city’s festivities make it one of the longest continuously running Juneteenth celebrations in the country.

The holiday officially takes place on June 19—marking 159 years to the day since Union troops arrived in Texas and announced to enslaved Black people that they were free. But San Francisco got an early start on Saturday when it kicked off a weeks-long lineup of events with a popup market in front of the Ferry Building to spotlight local Black-owned businesses.

“Growing up in San Francisco in the Black community before cell phones and the technology we have now, the time that we came together was Juneteenth,” Mayor London Breed said at the event.

Breed said the festival in the Fillmore—a historically Black neighborhood known as the “Harlem of the West”—holds a special place in her heart because it reminds her of her childhood and feels like a homecoming of sorts.

With the rising popularity of Juneteenth in recent years, San Francisco’s annual celebrations have drawn more and more visitors from throughout the region.

Toni Rae Cooper, 67, traveled from her home in Vallejo to the waterfront Saturday to enjoy the celebration of Black heritage with her sister and friend. As a former history teacher, Rae said she has long appreciated Juneteenth as a chance for young people to learn about the struggles and triumphs of Black people in the U.S.

“I try to get to as many Juneteenth parties as I can—and I always love the food,” she said before going to fill plates with some of the barbeque, fried fish, southern comfort food and Caribbean cuisine on offer at the market.

Three women smile in front of large gold balloons spelling "JUNETEENTH," with one seated on a mobility scooter. They are outdoors, dressed in casual attire.
Toni Rae Cooper, center, celebrates Juneteenth with friends and family at a popup market outside the San Francisco Ferry Building. | Source: Jackson Stephens / The Standard

Deven Okry—an operations coordinator for the nonprofit Foodwise, which hosted the market along with MegaBlack SF—said the holiday may be generating more attention than ever lately, but the event on the waterfront still felt like a neighborhood affair. 

“Juneteenth, I think, holds a special place in people’s hearts,” she told The Standard.“They come down to this space to celebrate, eat good food, connect with entrepreneurs and meet up with family members.”

Because of growing interest in Juneteenth this year, Okry said more craft vendors wanted to join the popup market than in years past. She said In The Black, Fillmore-based Black-led marketplace, was instrumental in bringing more vendors.

A woman at a booth applies lotion to three people’s arms under a canopy at an outdoor market, with various skincare products displayed on the purple-covered table.
Madeline Howie, the owner of Glam Jam, which makes all-natural glitter sticks, shows customers her products during a Juneteenth popup market outside the San Francisco Ferry Building. | Source: Jackson Stephens / The Standard

Danielle Clark, owner of Keep It Simple Juices, said she’s amazed by how Juneteenth has become so much more popular in such a short amount of time.

“I think the representation of celebrations is very important,” she said during a break from serving attendees fresh ginger-infused drinks at her popup booth “I feel like even just a few years ago, a lot of people didn’t know what Juneteenth was. And now because of the visibility that it’s getting from events like this, and similar ones, we are starting [to] recognize Juneteenth as a national holiday for everyone.”

San Francisco’s first Junteenth market in 2021 was so successful it started the Foodwise Pop-Ups on the Plaza series that continues to this day..

The series is part of Foodwise’s Building Equity program, which helps early stage Black, Indigenous and other people of color entrepreneurs with market opportunities and technical and financial assistance. It receives support from the Port of San Francisco and San Francisco Human Rights Commission’s Dream Keeper Initiative. 

The celebrations continue all month in San Francisco, with events such as the  second annual Juneteenth parade on June 8 along Market Street followed by a free festival at Fulton Plaza with live performances, games and vendors. 

The weekend of June 14 through 16 will be jam-packed with festivals, including the Juneteenth Kickoff Celebration at SF City Hall, Juneteenth SF Freedom Celebration in the Fillmore and Juneteenth Bayview and Father’s Day Festival