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San Francisco’s First Citywide Parade Celebrating Black Liberation Kicks Off Juneteenth Festivities

People are waving small flags joyfully on a San Francisco cable car.
Source: Eloise Kelsey

Onlookers on their morning walks or jogs to the farmers market at the Ferry Building paused to take pictures of classic Skylark, Mustang and Cutlass cars lined up along Spear and Market streets. The Black men and women members of Fo’Fifteen Car Club were ready and waiting as early as 10 a.m. to drive in San Francisco’s inaugural Juneteenth parade through Downtown.  

Collaborating with the nonprofit Livable City, the Bayview- and Fillmore-based organizers succeeded in bringing the procession to the city streets. Livable City is best known for Sunday Streets, a citywide campaign that brings a day of car-free streets and free, family-friendly recreational activities to various neighborhoods.  

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The 1.5-mile parade began around 11 a.m. at Market and Spear, moving toward Civic Center Plaza while unapologetically displaying Black pride and joy, rarely seen in this size and magnitude on San Francisco’s streets.  

Thousands of people gathered to witness the parade of Black families, organizations and neighbors. Mayor London Breed led the parade in a classic cable car. The parade kicked off several weeks of events honoring the hard-fought legacy of the freedom of Black people—both past and present. 

Juneteenth references June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers reached Galveston, Texas, 2½ years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation ending slavery. Over 250,000 Black people were still enslaved when the soldiers arrived at Texas plantations to end the Confederate occupation of the region. 

A hand holds a flag with "JUNETEENTH" and red, green, and yellow stripes & stars.
A parade-goer holds a flag at the Juneteenth parade on Saturday. | Eloise Kelsey

Many Bay Area cities celebrated the holiday for the first time in 2022. The day of celebration—also referred to as “Freedom Day,” “Liberation Day,” or “Jubilee Day”—has been celebrated in San Francisco’s Bayview and Fillmore districts separately for over 70 years. Saturday’s parade, in a show of solidarity between the districts, bridged the city’s small but mighty Black community. 

Amid continued reports of San Francisco’s dwindling Black population, the Juneteenth parade holds another significance for the Black community—it’s a symbol of resilience. 

State and local officials were present to support the parade, including state Sen. Scott Wiener, who waved to the crowd from a green Skylark; City Treasurer Jose Cisneros, who nodded his head along as he was chauffeured in a black Buick Regal; and Supervisor Myrna Melgar, who rode along on a bike wearing bright green feathers in her helmet. 

Sounds from San Francisco rappers San Quinn, RBL Posse, StunnaMan02 and Larry June blared from floats, motorcycles and classic cars as they passed Powell Street. KBLX-FM 102.9 radio personality Antoine Davis introduced each float and parade participant, including Black firefighters, San Francisco Police Department motorcycle officers and emergency medical technicians.

The inaugural parade also signals to visitors and residents of San Francisco that Juneteenth is a culturally significant holiday for the city in the same way as the annual Pride festivities held every year in June and the Chinatown’s Lunar New Year celebration in February. 

Dancers from Lyric Performing Arts Center and Feline Finesse Dance Company showed off their moves. Performers from the African American Shakespeare Company, dressed in garb from their recent production of Cinderella, promenaded just ahead of Oakland Black Cowboy Association. Children gathered in awe around a small pony led by association President Wilbert F. McAlister. 

The procession returned to the Ferry Building for “Juneteenth on the Waterfront,” as part of a series called “Pop-Ups on the Plaza,” featuring Black-owned businesses and food. The events are organized by Foodwise and MegaBlack SF. Saturday’s event featured a Foodwise Classroom titled “Black Chefs and Wine Makers Talk.” 

A wide variety of food vendors served the fair, including Lil’ Alijo Catering & Events rib tips, Mo’Raysha’s lobster mac & cheese and beverages from The Lemonade Bar. Gumbo Social, which recently opened its brick-and-mortar location in the Bayview, was present with its signature savory gumbo.

There were no speeches or grand gestures at the end of the parade route. The first San Francisco Juneteenth parade was an opportunity for many to see San Francisco and the greater Bay Area’s Black community in authentic and homegrown celebration despite the holiday’s origins of despair.

The parade was only the beginning of the celebration of Black justice and liberation. Breed will host the official ceremony at San Francisco City Hall on Friday, followed by a week of celebration. Activities will be happening throughout the city, including the 73rd Annual Fillmore Juneteenth Freedom Festival on Saturday, which will feature eight city blocks of family-friendly activities, performances, games and rides. The Bayview Juneteenth celebration will be held at Gilman Park on Sunday.