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The Tradition Of Juneteenth Moves Forward As Talks Of Reparations Resume

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The Cooper Family Foundation has held an annual Juneteenth celebration in San Diego for half a century.

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Speaker 1: 00:00 Today is June teenth a day to celebrate freedom and independence. The holiday marks the day when union soldiers finally made their way to Galveston, Texas to announce the abolition of slavery two years after it had been abolished. Today also marks the first time in a decade, Congress held a hearing on reparations for the descendants of slaves. Here's testimony from National Book Award Winning Author Tena Hasi Coats who made the case for reparations this morning.

Speaker 2: 00:28 It was 150 years ago and it was right now typical black family in this country has one 10th the wealth of the typical white family. Black women die in childbirth at four times the rate of white women, and there was of course the shame of this land of the free boasting, the largest prison population on the planet, of which the descendants of the enslaved make up the largest share.

Speaker 1: 00:51 Again, that was ton of Aussie coats at today's hearing in DC on HR 40 which calls for a commission to study and develop a reparation proposals. Meanwhile, here in San Diego, June teenth has been observed by the Cooper family foundation for the last 50 years. With an annual celebration. Joining me via Skype is Sydney Cooper of the Cooper family foundation. Sydney, welcome.

Speaker 3: 01:13 Thank you so much.

Speaker 1: 01:14 Your family has hosted the Juneteenth celebration right here in San Diego for a half a century. Tell me about why and how your family took the initiative to celebrate this day.

Speaker 3: 01:24 Yeah. My father actually is from redbird, Oklahoma and so he took that seven tradition of celebrating Juneteenth and brought it to San Diego. Uh, my father was a small business owner, um, on imperial avenue. He had us barber shop. My mother had a beauty shop and we had a little fruit stand. So it was a big part of the community at the time. And what he would do is just use our back lot and he would feed the homeless and he would celebrate the day. And He, my father was a veteran. So you had a lot of people who that were his friends that were, um, uh, veterans and uh, they would get together and play music and, and since we had a fruit stand, we would cut up watermelon and then they would barbecue. And whoever came by, 29, 73 imperial avenue at the time would be able to get a free meal, listen to some music. And then we would have, um, political types like George Stevens who was a city councilmen and some political leaders that would speak on Juneteenth and try to educate the community.

Speaker 1: 02:24 Right. And, and so when we talk about, you know, the 4th of July, for example, fireworks are a traditional part of the celebration. So what are some of the Juneteenth traditions?

Speaker 3: 02:33 Uh, well, some of the traditions, uh, I would say is a lot of times it's the, uh, the food. So Barbecue, um, watermelon that, that, that, that was huge in term because it's a southern tradition. So a lot of times you're looking at southern cuisine in terms of the celebration. Um, other traditions would just be, um, learning the history of, of, of, um, of Juneteenth and what it's taken for people who came before us. Um, and what they sacrificed in order for us to be free. So it's a big educational component. The celebration is probably more or less the southern cuisine that is, that is actually served, uh, during the celebration.

Speaker 1: 03:20 No. Why is it important to commemorate and celebrate Juneteenth?

Speaker 3: 03:24 Well, we, we, my father used to say it's just like July 4th. It's, it's our independence. Um, um, and if we don't celebrate that, um, uh, an acknowledge that, then who will, so he always used to say our communities to celebrate Juneteenth Rikers to July 4th. Um, not that we shouldn't celebrate July 4th. We should. Uh, but also we should be celebrating Juneteenth because it's, it's our independence day.

Speaker 1: 03:50 Do you think the holiday is as important for African Americans to celebrate as it is for all of America to celebrate?

Speaker 3: 03:57 I think, I think it's, I think it's as important for, for all Americans to celebrate it. It's, it's, it's something that's, um, a part of our history, um, and, uh, something that happened in America that people struggle for on all sides. So, uh, it's definitely, uh, an American holiday and I, as that's how I see it, and I think that everybody's participate, everybody should know about it and to learn about it. Um, just as if we liked July, July 4th,

Speaker 1: 04:28 in 2017, California made Juneteenth a state holiday. Uh, still it's not a national holiday. Do you think more should be done to commemorate this day?

Speaker 3: 04:38 Absolutely. I think I fall in the, in the, in the, um, the, the, the philosophy and the dairy on my father that we all should celebrate that day and that day should be a national holiday. So I, I'm definitely falling in that camp and that's because I've been celebrating it. If this sounds a kid, so I don't know. Anything else.

Speaker 1: 04:59 And since your family has been spearheading this celebration here in San Diego for many years, you know, do you have a sense of whether this holiday is growing and being celebrated more, or is there a concern that it's getting lost in history?

Speaker 3: 05:12 No, I think that it's picking up some momentum. Um, I actually, um, just took a job, I'm sorry. I in Oregon, so I was there this weekend and, and I, I've been to Oregon for like three months. And so when I got back yesterday, I was walking through downtown and they had a Juneteenth celebration that was given by the Shakespeare Festival, uh, in Ashland, Oregon. Um, and it was very nice. Um, it wasn't as big as ours, but it was very nice. It was well attended and it was well orchestrated. Um, so I, I do think that it does pick up momentum. And now I'm like, when I talked to different people about Juneteenth, I don't have a lot of people giving me blank stares about what am I talking about. So a lot of people are starting to recognize, uh, the significance of the day and this what Juneteenth means.

Speaker 1: 06:04 And I know the Cooper family held a Juneteenth celebration this past weekend. Uh, what will you be doing though on this Juneteenth Day?

Speaker 3: 06:13 I will probably be in prayer, just that, uh, I'm able to carry on this tradition from my father and that, you know, us as a family, we were able to kind of come together and carry this tradition on a lot of times as children of, of significant leaders. But I would definitely put my father in the category of a leader in the community. We don't carry on traditions, and so I'm thankful that our family carries on this tradition and legacy of my father and celebrate Juneteenth and just try to educate and celebrate the day

Speaker 1: 06:45 I've been speaking with Sydney Cooper, with the Cooper family foundation. Sydney, thanks so much for joining us. Thank you so much.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.