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Manhattan Beach Moves Forward with Juneteenth Plans

Jan 18, 2024 07:51AM ● By Jeanne Fratello

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

The Manhattan Beach City Council has agreed to move forward with a two-part Juneteenth celebration, funded in part by private donations.

The plan calls for two celebrations; a smaller event on Wednesday, June 19, at Bruce's Beach Park, from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m; and a larger event at Polliwog Park on Saturday, June 22 at Polliwog Park from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. 

The Bruce's Beach Park event would include comments by Manhattan Beach City Council members and MBPD Police Chief Rachel Johnson, a representative from the Mira Costa Black Scholars' Union, gospel music, a Juneteenth educational activity for kids and families, and refreshments. 

Grand View Elementary School, located nearby, has offered up its parking lot for overflow parking for that event. 

The Polliwog Park event would feature a professional jazz ensemble, DJ, dancing, art, family and educational activities, vendors, and food trucks - through partnerships with local Black business owners, musicians, and performers. 

The total budget for the two events would not exceed $30,000 ($5,500-$6,500 for the Bruce's Beach Park event and $21,000-$23,500 for the Polliwog Park event). 

The city has received an anonymous private pledge for a donation of $15,000 for Juneteenth events for each of three years (2024, 2025, and 2026), with a request for matching funds from the city. 

The city is also reaching out to seek corporate sponsorships.

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.

Juneteenth events were held in 2023 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 - hosted a Juneteenth event in South L.A.

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. On the one hand, Bruce's Beach Park has become an important symbolic location for honoring Black history in Southern California; and on the other hand, the park's immediate neighbors have become weary of the renewed attention to and/or activities being held at that relatively compact park surrounded by numerous residences.

After a series of privately organized gatherings at Bruce's Beach Park - including a Juneteenth celebration, a sound bath, and a party promoted on social media as the "Blacckkity Beach Festival" - touched a nerve with many residents, the city in 2022 reaffirmed its policy not to allow special event permits at Bruce's Beach Park.

Project Had Invited Community Input

The Juneteenth celebration project has been in the works for nearly a year. In April 2023, City Council considered, and then rejected the idea of holding a Juneteenth celebration in 2023, in favor of allowing more time to prepare for a "high-quality" event in 2024. 

In preparation for the 2024 event, the city held two public conversation/"listening" sessions and created a survey for residents to weigh in on the celebration.

The Juneteenth survey was open for five months, between July and November. In October, Mira Costa students responded to the survey en masse, providing more than 1300 of the 1700+ votes cast in the survey.

The City Council had considered approving funding for a Juneteenth celebration at its December 5 meeting. However - aside from residents who said that there should be no city-funded Juneteenth celebration at all - the original proposal had drawn criticism on two grounds. Critics said 1) that the detailed cost information provided by staff was given too late (supplemental information was provided to the public the day before the meeting); and 2) that the overwhelming Mira Costa student response had skewed the results.

The council agreed to hold off on a vote until the January 16 meeting to give residents more of a chance to evaluate the proposal and funding options, with a strong push toward seeking private contributions.

At Tuesday night's meeting, several Mira Costa students spoke out passionately in favor of a Juneteenth event in Manhattan Beach, and in particular an event at Bruce's Beach Park. 

Furthermore, Janet Allen, a counselor at Mira Costa and founding faculty advisor to Mira Costa's Black Scholars Union, noted that her grandparents and great-grandparents were only allowed to go to Bruce's Beach and those beaches like it that were reserved for Black beach-goers. 

"I would love to bring my 88-year-old father to Bruce's Beach on June 19 to see where his parents and grandparents were allowed to go to the beach," she told councilmembers.

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