By Thomas Cathey | Special To The OBSERVER
Sacramento native and Vietnam veteran Joe Oliver has been present at the Sacramento Juneteenth Inc. festival just about every year since its inception. Posted by himself in his foldable lawn chair in the center of William Land Park, Oliver occasionally was greeted by others who were perhaps familiar with him or curious to know more about him. Oliver is active in the community and is a familiar face at such events. Well educated on African American history and Juneteenth, Oliver frequently participates in local events or functions that celebrate or advance Black and African American culture.
“Not only this, but each year, [I go to] the Martin Luther King parade, deal with the NAACP, deal with the [City of] Sacramento. Whatever I can get into where I can be of help and hopefully make a difference, that’s where I’ll be,” Oliver told The OBSERVER.
Sacramento Juneteenth Inc. celebrated its annual Juneteenth festival at William Land Park, June 16-18. This year the event holds a little more significance, as it marked the festival’s 20th anniversary and the first Juneteenth since it became recognized as a state holiday earlier this year.
A gospel concert featuring area talent opened the event Friday night, with attendees enjoying the performance from their own lawn chairs. Gary Simon, event organizer and executive director of Sacramento Juneteenth Inc., was pleased with the turnout at the start of the festival Saturday.
“COVID kinda messed everyone up,” Simon said. “Last year was good; people were getting back to it. But [this time] we did our ‘Gospel Under the Stars’ [Friday] night and the crowd was beautiful.”
Earlier Saturday morning, the Greater Sacramento Urban League and the Sacramento chapter of Black Men Run hosted a 2.5-mile run around William Land Park commemorating the 2½ years that it took following the Emancipation Proclamation for African Americans in Texas to fully realize freedom.
The festival portion of the celebration began shortly after the run. Booths from Better Life Children’s Services, Black Men Run, VSP Vision Care and many more were set up around the park throughout the day, with several local food vendors at the event as well.
While the Juneteenth Inc. festival is an event that recognizes the fall of slavery in the United States, it also could be described as a celebration of Black culture. The performance stage from Friday night was left up Saturday, and locals took to it to play their music while attendees gathered to watch and dance. Kids played catch and other games out in the open field, and food vendors showcased their creations. Guests also could buy clothes and artifacts enriched in African culture.
The Coalition for a Just and Equitable California also was present at the festival and had a booth set up as well. Chris Lodgson represented the coalition and participated in his first Juneteenth festival as a vendor.
“We are, as far as we know, California’s only statewide organization born just for reparations and reparative justice for Black Americans whose ancestors were enslaved in this country,” Lodgson said. “We are one of the seven community anchor organizations selected by the state to do community education and community awareness building for California reparations. That’s why we’re here today, on Juneteenth weekend – commemorating Juneteenth weekend and also, raising awareness about reparations. As we say, you can’t talk about Juneteenth if you’re not talking about reparations.”