SF Juneteenth History



African-Americans have celebrated the abolition of slavery in San Francisco since 1855. Rev. T.M.D. Ward, a nephew of abolitionist Rev. Samuel Ringgold Ward, spoke at the annual celebration of Emancipation in the British West Indies in 1855 soon after arriving to become pastor of what was to become Bethel A.M.E. Church. That annual festival grew to the point that it was moved to Hayes Park by 1862, an indication of how many had Caribbean ties.

Col. Tom Hayes, owner of Hayes Park, was one of a number of prominent Republicans and Union Army leaders from San Francisco who were influenced by the abolition movement in San Francisco. Those white abolitionists worked hand-in-hand with the seven black churches, in the city in the 1850s, three of which continue to fight for social justice to this day – Bethel, First A.M.E. Zion and Third Baptist Church.

Among them were John C. Fremont, first candidate of the Republican Party in 1856 and William Tecumseh Sherman, a banker in San Francisco in the 1850s who became a major general in the Union Army. Union generals like Sherman began declaring an end to slavery in the states they conquered from the Confederate states as early as 1862, even before the Emancipation Proclamation. Those generals also helped influence President Abraham Lincoln to begin enlisting U.S. Colored Troops into the Union Army in 1862, along with the advocacy from black leaders such as Frederick Douglass, a close associate of Rev. Ward and Rev. J. B. Sanderson. The first issue of the San Francisco Elevator on April 7, 1865 devoted its front page to the transcript of a meeting held by Sherman and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton with Georgia blacks. On June 23, 1865, the Elevator reported that the grand celebration of emancipation in the West Indies was scheduled for August 1 at Hayes Park. Sanderson was president with vice presidents George Washington Dennis, David Ruggles and Ed Quinn with Ward as chaplain.

The first Emancipation Day marking the end of U.S. slavery in San Francisco was scheduled Jan. 1, 1869, according to the Elevator.  By then, Texas blacks had made the date of the last general order,