With drumbeats and claps, fists in the air, hundreds marched through the heart of Philadelphia on Friday in celebration of Juneteenth, shouting, “Black lives matter! Black lives matter!”
Their chants filled city streets on the 155th anniversary of the day the last enslaved Black people in the United States learned they were free — and on the 21st day since this summer’s protests against police brutality and racial injustice began in Philadelphia.
Across the region, Black Americans recognized the day as one of celebration, reflection, and action. Demonstrations blocked traffic at City Hall as about 100 people of varying races walked arm in arm along the streets in the afternoon. Black men marched through West Philadelphia in silence. At a fashion protest, models showed off the creations of Black designers at Independence Mall.
Falling four weeks after the death of George Floyd, which set off weeks of Black Lives Matter protests across the nation, Juneteenth this year had a high profile. Celebrations joined with the calls for justice, reform, and change.
Hundreds rallied and celebrated in cities across America in an unprecedented national observation of the day. Some major companies and local governments gave employees the day off; the Eagles, Phillies, and Sixers closed offices, as did the City of Philadelphia. Members of Congress introduced legislation to make it a national holiday; New Jersey lawmakers proposed designating it a state holiday. (Pennsylvania did so last year.)
Just after 4 p.m., a Juneteenth celebration and march sponsored by Black Lives Matter Philadelphia kicked off at Malcolm X Park at 51st and Pine Streets.
As several hundred people left the park to march down the middle of 52nd, a group of drummers set the pace and Krystal Strong shouted into a bullhorn leading chants, “Do we love being Black? We love being Black,” and, “When Black people are under attack, what do we do, stand up and fight back.”
As the group moved down the street lined with time-worn storefronts and rowhomes many motorists honked in support while residents stood on their front steps pumping their fists and using their phones to record the upbeat procession.
At the corner of 52nd Street and Baltimore Avenue, Barbara Moore, 74, did even more. She parked her car, got out, and started giving air hugs to the marchers. Some eventually came over and gave her real hugs.
“I’ve seen a whole lot of things in my life, but when I saw these young people I had to stop. I’m so proud to see them standing up to the plate. They need to, the way the police be beating on people,” she said. “I’d be marching with them if I didn’t have two bad knees.”
Among those who turned out in Malcolm X park were a handful of members from the Revolutionary Black Panther Party of Philadelphia, which was founded in 2017. Juneteenth is the true independence day for people of African decent, said General Musa Bey, 32.
“It’s the only Independence Day that I will celebrate. A lot of people don’t understand that, July 4 for them and July 4 for us looked totally different at that time. So, this is our true Independence Day, and I encourage every Black person and every person in the African diaspora to celebrate Juneteenth, because this was when you were rightfully free,” he said.
Field General Malik Bey, 36, said the march and celebration in the park “was a blessing” given that the annual Juneteenth parade was cancelled due to the corona virus. “You don’t see any protesting, it’s just all love,” he said, looking over the park filled with people lining up for food and gathered around a stage listening to speeches.
Robert Saleem Holbrook, of the Human Rights Coalition and the Abolitionist Law Center, took to the stage to speak on behalf of the”political prisoners” who are behind bars, where he spent 27 years.
“It don’t matter if they did it or not. That’s irrelevant. They been in prison for 50 years. It’s time for them to come home. It’s time for them to spend their last days with their families, give them that dignity. There’s no dignity in death in prison,” he said, drawing applause.
He called the named of several people that he considers to be political prisoners, including Mumia Abu Jamal, who is serving a life sentence for killing a Philadelphia police officer. “So we need to start lifting up restorative justice, but more importantly, we need to bring our political prisoners home,” he said.
Holbrook, 47, was 16 when he went to prison for murder and was released at age 44 in 2018.
Just a few hours after wrapping up the Everybody Eats Philly food drive in West Philadelphia, Cooks for the Culture and volunteers set up their second drive and celebration in honor of Juneteenth at North Philadelphia’s Hank Gathers Recreation Center.
Tables of food and personal items span the length of the gymnasium, while tables serving hot food and a DJ tent line the perimeter of the building. The organizers expected to feed around 500 people, in addition to the estimated 900 from the earlier event.
Gregory Headen, chef and co-organizer, said the event differs from the West Philadelphia event because it is more centered around Juneteenth. Headen, who was in charge of all of the food, prepared authentic Juneteenth cuisine such as baked mac and cheese, the Marcus Garvey green bean salad, and barbecue, as well as provide community members a space to listen to music, dance, and get to know each other.
”We wanted to make it more than just ‘here’s food,” Headen said. “We want people to relax, chill, meet people, and hear other people’s stories.”
Kumbah Sarnor, a Northeast Philadelphia resident who works with Headen at the Black Plate Experience, a platform for representation and inclusion for Black and brown people in the hospitality industry, said she was grateful that Cooks for the Culture held an event in North Philadelphia.
”North Philadelphia is definitely a food desert,” she said. “It’s hard to get your hands on fresh produce, and sometimes when you can get your hands on it, you’re not aware of how to use it, because it’s not forced into your community.”
For Garland Mitchell, who just wanted to take his granddaughter to play on the swings, the event was a pleasant surprise.
”I think it’s a wonderful thing, especially with how scarce food is,” he said. “I hope they keep doing this and keep bringing people together.”
March turns to Juneteenth celebration at Art Museum
Dancing to the beats of the West Powelton Drummers and shouting “Whose streets? Our streets,” a group of around 100 marched from City Hall to the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum in a protest-turned-Juneteenth celebration.
Several local black-owned businesses sold jewelry and T-shirts in Eakins Oval, while the crowd danced to a DJ in the Parkway and sought shade under the nearby trees.
Caroline Dorsey brought her son, his friends, and her mother to the Parkway to celebrate Juneteenth, which commemorates the day in 1865 when people in bondage in Galveston, Texas, learned they had been freed.
”It’s incredibly emotional, it’s incredibly powerful,” she said. “It’s something that’s owed to my ancestors, to where I came from. It just feels so good to have a collective unit of people, not just black, but white, it truly just touches my heart.”
Dorsey said her family has always acknowledged Juneteenth, but not on the level of the celebration of the official city holiday Friday.
Caroline Dorsey is here with her family. “It’s incredibly emotional, it’s incredibly powerful. It’s something that’s owed to my ancestors, to where I came from. It just feels so good to have a collective unit of people, not just black, but white, it truly just touches my heart.” pic.twitter.com/NZaJuGg5EV
″Can you imagine being set free and not knowing until a year later? That’s so incredibly hurtful,” Dorsey said. “We’re still feeling the psychological and economic effects of that. And to have the city recognize that, we need that right now.”
Surveying the crowd in Eakins Oval, Antoine Mapp, leader of the West Powelton Drummers smiled.
”To have a holiday that everybody’s recognizing now, it means that black lives matter in America,” he said. “It’s a change in the right direction. It doesn’t mean the change is over.”
“To have a holiday that everybody’s recognizing now, it means that black lives matter in America,” says Antoine Mapp, leader of the West Powelton Drummers (the Sixers drumline). “It’s a change in the right direction. It doesn’t mean the change is over.” pic.twitter.com/ca9tTU6RF4
‘We support police reform’: Police inspector joins demonstrators
Philadelphia Police Inspector Derrick Wood, commander of the Southwest Police Division, was dressed Friday in a black T-shirt and jeans as he marched alongside demonstrators on 52nd Street and into Malcolm X Park Friday.
“Black Lives Matter,” Wood told those gathered in the park.
Wood said police stand with the black participants in the march. He has lost two nephews to gun violence, one in 2007, the other June 8. Others in the park who have also lost relatives to gun violence, raised their fists in solidarity.
“We support police reform,” Wood said at the park event. “We are all black men and black women first.”
Wood wore a black “Men of Courage” T-shirt in support of T.E.A.M. Inc.‘s Men of Courage mentorship program, which he participates in during his off-duty hours.
He said about 25 police officers in regular clothes, including from his Southwest Division and the Police Athletic League, participated in Friday’s march.
“We stand with them,” he said of the participants. “We support the people who protest 100%.” The community needs to be able to trust police, and police officers who see fellow officers doing wrong need to speak out, he said.
‘I just wanted black women to feel like they’re queens'
About 50 people gathered at the Liberty Bell Friday afternoon for a Black Lives Matter fashion protest and show highlighting black artists and designers.
“It’s so important we show our expression through art,” said Aliah Campbell, of West Philadelphia, who read a poem titled Black Women. “With everything going on in the country, many of us have been inspired to keep creating.”
The show and march, which stopped at places in Old City that were significant along the Underground Railroad, was organized by World of Grandeur, a fashion marketing agency. Organizers said the show raised about $1,000 for nonprofits working in racial justice.
The show included a handful of models who emerged from cars and strutted down the sidewalk on Chestnut Street.
Among the Philly-area designers was Melody Andrews, who designs under the name Miss Glam. Her Queens Collection features a handful of looks made with fabric from Africa.
“With everything going on,” Andrews said, “I just wanted black women to feel like they’re queens.”
‘Black lives matter!' Protesters chant in street near City Hall
An “I Will Breathe” Juneteenth rally took place in the street outside City Hall, with demonstrators chanting the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and yelling, “Black lives matter!”
“This is what happens when love is at the center of a movement,” said Christopher Bowman, one of the leaders of the I Will Breathe organization. “Today was the day to celebrate Juneteenth, but let us not forget our fellow brothers and sisters who did not see justice.”
Group has grown, blocking traffic near City Hall as “I Will Breathe” organizers lead chants, calling on the names of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. pic.twitter.com/Opsc8uEk1e
Ashten Winger, a Netflix developer who formerly worked at Snap, tweeted that “this is what happens when you don’t have any black people on the product design team.”
“It doesn’t have to be this hard — how about an AR experience to inform your 229 million daily active users what Juneteenth is?” Winger added.
“We deeply apologize to the members of the Snapchat community who found this Lens offensive,” the company said in a statement. “A diverse group of Snap team members were involved in developing the concept, but a version of the Lens that went live for Snapchatters this morning had not been approved through our review process.”
Tables filled with food, water, and personal supplies lined the parking lot of Universal Daroff Charter School, where Cooks for the Culture, a Philadelphia organization that spotlights black chefs, hosted a food drive called Everybody Eats Philly in honor of Juneteenth, the commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States.
The food drive at 56th and Vine Streets also collected personal items and essentials. It’s the second of its kind, following a June 5 drive organized amid the Black Lives Matter protests after the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. Residents were greeted by volunteers, lively music, laughter, and screams of children jumping in a bouncy house and hanging from the playground jungle gym.
“We’re focused on feeding the community; making sure everybody can eat,” chef and organizer Malik Ali said. “Especially during the pandemic, and because of the looting taking place in a lot of stores where people are dependent on going grocery shopping, a lot of people are not able to get what they need.
Gwendolyn Mills, a Philadelphia resident who brought her grandchildren to the event, said Juneteenth is about freedom and unity. She commended Everybody Eats Philly for aiding members of the community who have lost their jobs in the pandemic and are unable to provide for themselves.
“People are in dire need of assistance; I know we are,” she said. “It’s awesome what they’re doing.”
Stephanie Willis, private chef, member of Cooks for the Culture, and lead organizer of the food drives, said she is pleased with the turnout, and plans to do more charity events like this.
“We’re going to take this everywhere,” she said. “We’re definitely going to keep feeding our neighborhoods collectively as a group. We want to make sure that everybody eats.”
Louisville firing police officer involved in the death of Breonna Taylor
The Louisville Metro Police Office is initiating termination procedures against police officer Brett Hankison, one of three officers involved in the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor on March 13, Mayor Greg Fischer announced on Friday.
In a letter sent to Hankison on Friday, interim police chief Robert Schroeder accused him of “wantonly and blindly” firing 10 rounds into Taylor’s apartment, despite no evidence anyone in the building posed a “danger or serious threat” to him or the other officers.
“I find your conduct a shock to the conscience,” Schroeder wrote. “I am alarmed and stunned you used deadly force in this fashion.”
Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician who was black, was shot and killed by officers who forcibly entered her apartment using a no-knock warrant as part of a narcotics investigation. No drugs were found in her apartment.
Schroeder also noted in the letter that Hankinson had previous been disciplined for “reckless conduct” that injured an innocent person, which he was disciplined for in January 2019.
The two other officers remain on administrative reassignment while the city investigates the shooting.
About 200 people, mostly black men dressed in black T-shirts, marched peacefully south on 52nd Street from Girard Avenue toward Malcolm X Park Friday.
Some women also walked in the march past storefronts, while dozens of men raised their fists in the air as they walked.
They were escorted by police as they passed stores like America’s Kids, which has boarded up windows, and a Foot Locker with its front metal grate pulled down in front of the closed store. They passed open diners and corner eateries offering takeout, and onlookers, some videotaping with cell phones.
As one woman on the sidewalk shouted, “Black Power!”, another woman walking in the March shouted back: “Equality!”
After they entered the park, Taj Murdock, CEO of T.E.A.M. Inc., called for the participants “Release that pain, brother'.” The crowd responded by letting our a loud roar of pain.
Shortly after noon today in Malcolm X Park, West Philly, black men participating in a Brotherly Love Juneteenth March release out a roar of pain so they can get out their fear and self-doubt and help the community. pic.twitter.com/4pH9JAV0uL
Murdock told participants that when he had the idea for the march and posted a video about it, self doubt immediately crept into his head. But he followed through, and wrote the words “Self Doubt” on his face mask, which he removed near the end of the hourlong event.
“I’m never going to doubt myself again,” Murdock said.
During the march on 52nd Street, participants for the most part walked silently, but every now and then, there was a call-and-response command shouted out.
After one man yelled “Ago!” which means “Listen!” or “Attention” in the Twi language of West Africa, others shouted back: “Ame!” which means “I am listening.”
Kyle Morris, the CEO of the ECO Foundation, said there will be a cleanup event on July 25 at a lot at 52nd Street and Wyalusing Avenue so it could become a gardening space and kids can learn to plant seeds. He also urged people to invest in the 52nd Street business corridor as well.
“Those businesses used to be owned by us,” Morris said. “Let’s buy back our community. Let’s build up our community.”
Bar-rae Choice, assistant principal of the Global Leadership Academy charter school at 52nd and Pine Streets, held a red-black-and-green Pan-African flag. With him were several nephews and sons, ages 6 to 24.
“If my children can’t see the work that I’m doing, it’s all for naught,” Choice said. “We have to prepare those behind us,” he said, explaining why it was important for youths to participate in the march.
“The black community is hurting right now,” said Choice, wearing a black face mask with the name “Sandra Bland” on it in white letters. Bland was the 28-year-old black woman who in 2015 was found hanging in a Texas jail cell three days after a traffic stop by a state trooper. Her death was officially ruled a suicide.
Choice, 42, who grew up in West Philly and now lives in Germantown, said he appreciated the sincerity of the men who marched and who spoke in the park. “It’s easy to go on social media and say hashtag,” but there are people whose feet “may have never touched the concrete,” he said. Those who marched showed that they are more than just words, Choice said.
Statue of former NFL owner who fought integration taken down
A state of George Preston Marshall, the former co-owner of Washington D.C.‘s NFL team, was removed from outside RFK Stadium Friday morning.
Events DC, which is in charge of the stadium, released a statement calling the statue a “symbol of a person who didn’t believe all men and women were created equal and who actually worked against integration.”
Calling it more than a march, organizers of the Brotherly Love Juneteenth Silent March 2020 said the West Philadelphia event Friday will also be a call to action to help the distressed area around 52nd Street.
“This collective is to bring the black man together” from different educational and professional backgrounds, said Taj Murdock, 45, CEO of T.E.A.M. Inc., The Empowerment Achievement Movement, who came up with the idea for the march.
Black men will be invited to participate in the march starting at noon at 52nd Street and Girard Avenue. They will head to Malcolm X Park at 51st and Pine Streets. Their “allies” will be asked to stand by the side or wait for them in the park, Murdock said Thursday.
At the park, march participants will be removing face masks that will have taped on them words like “Fear,” “Survivor’s Guilt,” and “Silence” and will release a loud outcry.
“We can’t work in the community unless we release that,” said Murdock.
Murdock, Philadelphia Police Inspector Derrick Wood, and Kyle Morris, CEO of The Education Culture Opportunities Foundation, or the ECO Foundation, are expected to speak at the park about issues including gun violence, the need for change and for their voices to be heard, and ways they can support the community. Wood has lost two nephews to gun violence, including Tyshawn Woods, 22, who was fatally shot June 8.
Wood, whose Southwest Police Division is a co-organizer of the march, on Thursday tweeted that Friday’s event is: “MORE than a march - it’s the beginning of a collaborative community effort to impact a violent/distressed corridor on 52nd St between Girard and Wylausing.”
The first project will be revitalizing a community garden followed by the renovation of a playground.
Friday’s march was organized by various community organizations including T.E.A.M. Inc., the ECO Foundation, Robots & Mentors, the Fathering Circle, 100 Black Men Philadelphia, Black Men Unifying Black Men, Greater Days Ahead, and F.I.R.E. (Free Inspiration Reaching Everyone).
In addition to Wood, other black police officers are expected to march, too, Murdock said. “Though they are viewed as law enforcement as well, they have generational pain as well,” he said. “They are coming out as human beings.”
The Eagles, Phillies, and Sixers have closed their team offices for the day. The Union, which is in full team training, is focusing on “education, reflection, and action” and bringing in an outside speaker to discuss diversity and inclusion.
Tulsa imposes curfew ahead of Trump rally to prevent violent protests
Tulsa has announced a curfew for Friday and Saturday nights, restricting people from a large area surrounding the arena where President Donald Trump will hold his first campaign rally in months.
An executive order signed by Mayor G.T. Bynum, D, says the curfew, which begins at 10 p.m. and lifts at 6 a.m. both nights, is intended to quell potential overnight violence as thousands intend to pour into the city to protest the president’s visit.
It’s unclear whether the Trump supporters who have camped out for days to secure a prime spot to see the president on Saturday will be cleared out as well.
3 p.m.: March for education and social justice organized by the Cherry Hill High School East African American Culture Club, which will begin in the parking lot of Whole Foods on Kings Highway and end at the Cherry Hill Public Library
4 p.m.: Jawnteenth, a Juneteenth celebration of Black joy, freedom, and resistance, at Malcolm X Park in West Philly. Organizers say the celebration “is a Black only space.”
Juneteenth was first celebrated by newly emancipated black Texans 155 years ago.
President Abraham Lincoln freed black people in the South from bondage on Jan. 1, 1863, when he signed the Emancipation Proclamation. But enslaved Americans in Texas didn’t learn they were free until more than two years later after General Robert E. Lee surrendered and the union troops were finally strong enough to enforce the order that slavery in Texas had come to an end.
Union soldier Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Texas with his regiment, as the story goes, on June 13, but it took him six days to get to Galveston where the last of the enslaved were in bondage. When he told them they were free, parties erupted in the streets. (The 13th Amendment abolishing slavery across the U.S. didn’t come into effect until almost six months later in December 1865, almost three years after Lincoln’s proclamation.)
Since then, black Americans have marked June 19th — or Juneteenth — with picnics, parades, and fireworks displays. The celebration is also called Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, or Emancipation Day.