Sidney Cooper Sr. was known as the “Mayor of Imperial Avenue.” He was also known as chief organizer of San Diego’s Juneteenth Celebration.
Until his passing in 2002, Cooper Sr. held the event behind his barbershop near the 2900 block of Imperial Avenue. It was there that members of the community celebrated what is known as Juneteenth, the day in 1865 when Union soldiers arrived at Galveston, Texas to announce an official end to slavery.
Now, Cooper’s son and daughters have taken over their father and mother’s Juneteenth Celebration in San Diego.
“Given everything that's happening in our society, if we can reach back and understand that that day, June 19, 1865, marked a day of progress and to overcome that hurdle of freeing the slaves, the hurdles that we have in front of us, are relatively easy to overcome,” said Sidney Cooper Jr.
And while the Coopers have been celebrating Juneteenth since they were children, the holiday is now getting much more attention since protests erupted following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis last month.
Cooper Jr. says that while the cause of the newfound attention on the Juneteenth holiday is not ideal, the fact that more people are aware is much more important to improve race relations in San Diego County and throughout the country.
“People are reaching to find ways for us to come together,” said Cooper. ”If we acknowledge the history and the humanity of people, and we understand their journey, then that’s the healing that needs to happen. And now you not only see a person by their race, their creed, or their color, but you see them as a human being.”
Added Cooper, “I guess sometimes you, you have to say no matter the reason, if it brings a spotlight and, and people start to acknowledge it, then that means we are seeing progress.”
But the increased awareness for this year’s Juneteenth celebration is bittersweet as social guidelines restricting gatherings prevent community members from meeting.
Cooper says it was hard on his sisters, Marla and Lana, the two who have taken over for their father to have to transition to an online celebration.
“I told Marla, that the thing is the money that we raised this year, we save for next year,” said Cooper. “And, next year maybe we will make it even bigger. Who knows, maybe we will have enough money to get Earth, Wind, and Fire here.”
While the Coopers will work to make next year’s Juneteenth celebration bigger than San Diego has ever seen, other Black community members are also working hard to further add to the progress that the Coopers have fought so hard for in San Diego.
Cierra Robinson is one of those people. Robinson, a former victim of sex trafficking turned CEO of her own non-profit, views Juneteenth as an opportunity to remember how far she and others have come.
“There's a connection with Juneteenth for a lot of us that makes us feel empowered. It emboldens us” said Robinson who is awaiting the release of her new book, “Reclaiming Our Stories 2”, which features voices of 19 people growing up and living in Southeastern San Diego.
“Juneteenth means that our history, our heritage, is finally starting to be accepted. That as African-Americans as Black people, as people of color, we have had it up to here with people writing our narrative and our story.”
To hear a live reading of Robinson’s book at 2 p.m. tomorrow, click here.
For information on San Diego’s Juneteenth celebration, click here or here.