Where to Celebrate Juneteenth in Sonoma and Napa Counties

Juneteenth festivities in Sonoma and Napa counties include food, music and community gatherings, and events range from film screenings to block parties and jazz jubilees.

Juneteenth festivities in Sonoma and Napa counties include food, music and community gatherings, and events range from film screenings to block parties and jazz jubilees.

Juneteenth — a day of learning about and honoring the Black American experience through communal celebrations — originated nearly 160 years ago in a city on the Texas Gulf Coast.

On Jan. 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that all enslaved peoples in Confederate states “are, and henceforth shall be free.”

However, it wouldn’t be for another two years that many enslaved people in Confederate territory would even learn of the proclamation, let alone be freed. According to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture, Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, on June 19, 1865, and announced that the enslaved people in the state, amounting to over 250,000 people, were free by executive decree.

Newly freed people celebrated their independence with annual celebrations — traditionally centered around food, music and community — which were carried on by descendants and known as “Juneteenth.”

Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth a holiday in 1980. President Joe Biden signed a bill in 2021 making Juneteenth a federal holiday, and just last year California Gov. Gavin Newsom proclaimed Juneteenth an official state holiday.

Sonoma County’s first Juneteenth

When Texas native Marteal Perry moved to Santa Rosa in 1953, there were no local Juneteenth celebrations, and there weren’t many Black people living in the county at the time. From the jump, Perry made it her personal mission to promote racial understanding in the community and foster good will between groups of diverse backgrounds.

“There were some barriers I thought should be brought down, so I got started,” Perry said in a ​​June 20, 1991, article in The Press Democrat. “I didn’t just think about doing something. I put it into action.”

In 1954, Perry founded Santa Rosa’s first Juneteenth celebration, held at her residence on South Wright Road, where she also built one of the city’s first integrated swimming pools for local youth. On the same block 30 years later, Perry founded the Prayer Chapel Outreach Mission Church, where she served as an evangelist up until her death in 1996.

For four decades, hundreds of community members would come to celebrate Perry’s annual Juneteenth observances and enjoy a barbecue and pool party.

Meanwhile, in 1970, Harold Rogers and a group of other college students held a large demonstration in Santa Rosa to protest the city’s proposal to build a street through South Park, named for the neighborhood in which it resides. The students prevailed in saving the park, and their protest evolved into an annual community gathering that became Sonoma County’s official Martin Luther King-Juneteenth Festival.

The park was renamed Martin Luther King Jr. Park in January of 1986, and it remains the location for the MLK-Juneteenth Festival, now in its 54th year and headed by Nancy Rogers, Harold’s wife and longtime organizer of the event.

People gather around a picnic table full of classic Juneteenth fare in Santa Rosa. (Eileen Roche)
Tomato-Watermelon Salad
This refreshing tomato-watermelon salad tastes great with fried chicken — and adds a necessary pop of red to the Juneteenth table. (Eileen Roche)
Nancy Rogers Juneteenth
Nancy Rogers serves her peach cobbler — made with a buttery crust that envelops the peaches she cooks with brown sugar and spice — at the 53rd annual Martin Luther King Jr.-Juneteenth Festival in Santa Rosa in June of 2023. (Eileen Roche)

June 15

Martin Luther King-Juneteenth Festival: The county’s 54th annual MLK-Juneteenth Festival will be held the weekend before Juneteenth in Santa Rosa. The event will include traditional Juneteenth cuisine, public speakers, arts and crafts, children’s games, a basketball tournament and a special performance by Bay Area party band Pride & Joy. Contact sonomacountyjuneteenth@gmail.com for more information. Free. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Martin Luther King Jr. Park at 1671 Hendley St., Santa Rosa. sonomacountyjuneteenth.com

June 15

Healdsburg Jazz Juneteenth Celebration: Healdsburg Jazz will host a Juneteenth celebration with a jazz jubilee at the Healdsburg Plaza. Trombonist Steve Turre, a member of the Saturday Night Live Band since 1985, will headline the event, which will feature several other Bay Area jazz greats. The celebration will also include libations from the The Nubian Cafe Collective, Healdsburg Jazz’s Poet Laureate Enid Pickett, drum workshops led by Javier Navarrette, an interactive education area curated by Andi Wong, and other music performances and workshops. Learn more about the event here. 2 p.m. Healdsburg Plaza. healdsburgjazz.org

June 16

Juneteenth Celebration with Chef Tanya Holland: Chef Tanya Holland is back to host this event and she’s firing up her famous southern barbecue. Special musical guest DJ D Sharp, the official DJ of the Golden State Warriors, will be spinning throughout the event. Tickets are $65 those 12 and up, and $35 for children 11 and under. 3-6 p.m. The Grove At Copia at 500 1st St., Napa. 707-967-2500. ciaatcopia.com/juneteenth-celebration

June 19

Black is Beautiful — A Strange Constellation Juneteenth Celebration: Vintage clothing shop and art space Strange Constellation, located in Santa Rosa’s SOFA district, will host a Juneteenth block party in collaboration with Café Frida Gallery, Positive Images, the Spinster Sisters and other SOFA district businesses. The celebration will include a pop-up art gallery at Strange Constellation, a drag show at Café Frida and an art market featuring Black vendors from the Bay Area. Tickets are $20, though a sliding scale option will be available. 4-10 p.m. 300 S. A St., Suite 1, Santa Rosa. Contact hello@strangeconstellation.com for more information. strangeconstellation.com

June 19

Juneteenth Celebration Potluck: Healdsburg pub the Elephant in the Room will host a Juneteenth celebration with a potluck party and live music by local jazz funk duo Neon Blue. The community is invited to bring a dish to share as they enjoy Afro-jazz-funk fusion music from 5-8 p.m. Free. 177 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg. elephantintheroompub.com

June 19

Juneteenth Luncheon: Sonoma State University and the City of Rohnert Park will host a Juneteenth luncheon at the Rohnert Park Community Center. Red Rose Catering will cater the lunch with traditional dishes, such as fried chicken, collard greens, black eyed peas, mac and cheese, cornbread and peach cobbler. RSVP by June 12, as seating is limited. Register online. Free. 11 a.m. Rohnert Park Community Center at 5401 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park. rpcity.org

June 19

“The Right to Read” film screening at Rialto Cinemas: Only in theaters Juneteenth, “The Right to Read” is a documentary by Jenny Mackenzie, executive produced by Levar Burton, that focuses on a critical civil rights issue: literacy. The film shares the story of Oakland NAACP activist Kareem Weaver, with the aid of a teacher and two families, who — dismayed with bleak reading scores in their community and across the nation — work to improve reading instruction at Oakland schools. Rialto Cinemas in Sebastopol will screen the film at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults and $5 for children 11 and under and seniors 62 and over. Rialto Cinemas at 6868 McKinley St., Sebastopol. 707-525-4840. rialtocinemas.com