Sat, Apr

Juneteenth festival celebrates cultural arts in Leimert Park

Photo by E. Mesiyah McGinnis

Performing Arts
The Lula Washington Dance Theater hosted Juneteenth: A Classical Music and Dance Festival. 
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Photo by Ian Foxx

More than 150 years after enslaved Texans heard the official news of their freedom following the end of the Civil War, Americans commemorated the newly enacted Juneteenth federal holiday with hundreds of parades, picnics, barbecues and special performances.

In the Crenshaw/Leimert Park community, the holiday was celebrated with a variety of cultural arts showcasing Black culture.   Juneteenth:  A Classical Music and Dance Festival at the Lula Washington Dance Theater was a day-long observance that included dance, classical and jazz music, poetry and a drum performance.

“It may have taken two years for Black folks to get the word about emancipation, but when they did, they started celebrating,” said Community Build President Robert Sausedo, one of the organizations coordinating the festival said, referring to the delayed announcement of President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation ending slavery.  “Although President Biden made Juneteenth an official federal holiday in 2021, the truth is, we’ve been celebrating unofficially for over a hundred years.”

An audience of over 400 gathered to enjoy the free outdoor festival which opened with a complimentary barbecue lunch.  The celebration included a premiere performance by the Lula Washington Dance Theater to the composition of “Pages from Negro History” by African American composer William Grant Still.  A lively musical set by the Fernando Pullum Youth Jazz Orchestra included classical and jazz standards.  The World Stage Executive Director and Jazz vocalist Dwight Trible wowed the audience with an eclectic performance.  Dale Madison presented a dramatic reading of poet Gwendolyn Brooks’ “Primer for Blacks,” which speaks to the necessity of Black people accepting their heritage.  The Futo Toro Drum Ensemble delivered folkloric beats from West Africa. 

Although Juneteenth has been officially recognized as a federal holiday, only 24 states and the District of Columbia legally recognized Juneteenth as a public holiday in 2022 - meaning state government offices were closed and state workers received a paid day off, according to a Pew Research Center analysis. 

Although the state of California has not yet made Juneteenth a paid holiday for state employees, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved a proclamation to recognize Juneteenth as a paid holiday for City employees.

Community Build. Inc. Vice President, Government Relations and Art Programs and Juneteenth festival producer Albert Lord lauded the Los Angeles City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti for their recognition of Juneteenth and moving toward inclusivity and racial equality.

“In the mayor’s words, this is a move to work within our City family to minimize prejudice, to eradicate racism and to do what we can to try to bring our people together,” Lord said.

The festival received recognition by officials at the City and federal level.  The City of Los Angeles Executive Director of the LA Civil + Human Rights and Equity Department Capri Maddox honored Robert Sausedo and Albert Lord with the Mayors’ Juneteenth Proclamation. U.S. Representative Karen Bass’ District Director Jacqueline Hamilton presented festival organizers with certificates including the Presidential White House Juneteenth Proclamation.

Lord produced the event as a part of the African American Heritage Month Legacy Project (AAHMLP).  The Juneteenth festival is his third AAHMLP curation highlighting the contributions of Blacks to the creative economy and American culture.  Previous projects included a walking pop-up exhibit of photos and memorabilia of African American history, including a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, and “Blacks in Cinema” a photo exhibit showcasing the contribution of African Americans in Hollywood. 

Juneteenth:  A Classical Music and Dance Festival was made possible with support from the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, the Office of Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Council District 8; the Office of Curren Price, Council District 9; the Office of Los Angeles City Council President Emeritus Herb Wesson, Council District 10; and the Empowerment Congress West Area Neighborhood Council.