Skip to main content

MB News

Manhattan Beach to Plan for Juneteenth Celebration in 2024

Apr 20, 2023 08:51AM ● By Jeanne Fratello

A scene from a Juneteenth celebration at Bruce's Beach Park in Manhattan Beach in 2021. Photo credit: TeddyPhotoVideoGraphy.

If you're hoping for an official Juneteenth celebration in Manhattan Beach... you're going to have to wait until 2024. That's the decision that the Manhattan Beach City Council arrived at after a Tuesday night discussion on a potential event.

City Council members voted, 5-0, to direct the Parks and Recreation staff and the Parks and Rec Commission to come up with a comprehensive plan for a city-wide Juneteenth event in 2024. 

The decision came after an emotional debate about whether the city should hold a Juneteenth event this year at Bruce's Beach Park. 

The question drew a variety of comments from residents who said that Bruce's Beach Park was too small and ill-equipped to hold a special event - and that such events were disruptive to neighbors - as well as residents who said that the momentum from the recent Bruce's Beach apology should be continued with a Juneteenth celebration at the park.

In the end, councilmembers agreed that if the city were to do an event, it should be done "the right way" with enough time for thoughtful planning, and potentially in multiple places around the city, including Polliwog Park and Civic Center Plaza.

Observing Juneteenth in Manhattan Beach

Juneteenth (a portmanteau of "June Nineteenth") is celebrated as the official end of slavery in the U.S. It marks the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas in 1865 to bring the news that slavery had ended. (Although this technically occurred two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, the news had taken that long to get to Galveston.)

Juneteenth was named a federal holiday in 2021. This year, June 19 falls on a Monday.

According to Manhattan Beach city staff, Juneteenth events have been scheduled this year in numerous other nearby cities, including Redondo Beach, Gardena, Inglewood, Carson, Irvine, Laguna Beach, Ventura County, L.A. County, and Santa Barbara.

L.A. County Supervisor Holly MItchell - who represents Manhattan Beach, among other cities - will be hosting a Juneteenth event in South LA.

However, in Manhattan Beach, ever since the revival of the Bruce's Beach issue, the question of celebrating Juneteenth has become an issue fraught with emotions for residents, particularly those neighbors who are weary of the renewed attention to Bruce's Beach Park.

(Juneteenth 2021 at Bruce's Beach Park. Photo credit: TeddyPhotoVideoGraphy.)

In 2021, a privately organized Juneteenth celebration at Bruce's Beach Park drew about 500 people.

Then in February 2022, a large unofficial party at Bruce's Beach Park in February 2022, dubbed the "Blacckkity Beach Festival" and promoted on social media, further stirred the ire of local residents. (The event, according to organizers, was intended as a way to cap off Black History month and was accompanied by a "Peace Paddle" designed to encourage Black surfers to come out and surf or learn to surf.)

(A scene from the Blacckkity Beach Festival in February 2022. Photo credit: Diana Skaar.)

Following that party, Manhattan Beach's Parks and Recreation Commission voted unanimously in March 2022 to recommend including Bruce's Beach Park and two local parkettes in policies for special event permits - meaning that the city would be able to approve permits for and presumably control parties at those locations.

Nevertheless, the City Council, also in March 2022 rejected the Parks and Rec Commission vote and instead reaffirmed its policy not to allow any special event permits at Bruce's Beach Park and the parkettes.

Juneteenth 2022 was a relatively quiet day at Bruce's Beach park, with just a handful of families enjoying picnics, and with contracted security staff on hand.

A City-Wide Event

On Tuesday night, the City Council heard a variety of comments on whether to hold an official city Juneteenth event at Bruce's Beach Park this year.

Councilmember Amy Howorth had been one of the proponents of having the city host what she characterized as a small but meaningful event at Bruce's Beach Park. "If we don't do something, people will come, and we cannot control the numbers," she said. "We need to control this. We need to own it."

But the appetite for an event this year - particularly at Bruce's Beach Park - did not seem to be popular among residents. 

Manhattan Beach Mayor Richard Montgomery said that the letters he had received from residents were running 3-1 against hosting such an event.

After hearing comments from residents, Councilmember David Lesser weighed in: "It just doesn't make sense to try and push something through where, perhaps out of fear or misinformation, there are residents who are angry - and we're stoking that," he said. "The whole point of this, as I see it, is to try and bring our community together."

Councilmember Steve Napolitano said he agreed with the idea of a Juneteenth celebration, but he believed the city should take more time to plan something meaningful.

"I would like to see it properly planned and have enough folks engaged in that process so that it's something that is real, it's sincere, it's genuine, and we're not just trying to force it to meet the moment... but then come up short because we just didn't have enough time or enough thought."

Having a small event with just one or two speakers would not really seem "worthy of the moment," Napolitano added. "I don't see that as a celebration. I see that as, 'We're trying to do something and get something done so that we can say we did something.' I don't see that as quality, I don't see that as being up to what our standards are or should be."

Howorth agreed and made the motion to begin planning for a "robust" city-wide event for next year - which was approved on a 5-0 vote.

Nevertheless, Howorth added, she wanted to speak out against the notion implied by some comments that inappropriate behaviors (alcohol consumption, public urination, littering, and more) were unique to Bruce's Beach. ("You've just described every weekend at the beach," quipped Napolitano.)

"The attention to Bruce's Beach being this driver of this behavior - I think is not appropriate and not OK. I need to say that," said Howorth.

To that, Mayor Pro Tem Joe Franklin responded: "You were not on council during the time when a lot of these things happened. A lot of the complaints came in, a lot of the folks talking to me and writing in letters were saying, 'What's going on here?' They felt unsafe, there was bad behavior there, it was a very tumultuous time. You need to respect the residents and how they feel about it because it happened to them...I don't think there's an ulterior motive here other than to get this place under control... It should be a quiet place; it should be a reflective place."

Bruce's Beach Park

Bruce‚Äôs Beach Park was so named to recognize Willa and Charles Bruce, pioneering Black business owners who created a thriving beachfront resort for Black beach-goers in Manhattan Beach in the 1920s. 

Although the park is not part of what had been the Bruce family property, it has become a place of gathering and pilgrimage, where families lay flowers, photos, and mementos in solidarity with the history of Black Americans in the area.

Located on a steep hill several blocks up from the beach, it is terraced into five sections with trees, shrubs, seating, and recreation areas.

The city recently installed a new plaque at Bruce's Beach Park and is seeking proposals from artists for commemorative artwork to add to that location. A meditation garden surrounding the plaque and the artwork will then complete the project.

Subscribe to MB News Emails * Don't Miss a Thing, Sign Up Today!

* indicates required
Email Format

Subscribe to MB News Emails * Don't Miss a Thing, Sign Up Today!

* indicates required
Email Format