SAN FRANCISCO - The Bay Area and the nation are preparing to mark the end of slavery in America with Juneteenth this weekend.
Sculptor Dana King is working on Monumental Reckoning, a piece with 350 figures; the ancestors, representing the first enslaved Africans brought to America.
The figures look up at the former site of national anthem author and slave holder Francis Scott Key's statue, toppled by protesters in June of last year. "These ancestors represent the beginning of chattel slavery in this country, the business of slavery," said King. "It started with 350 Africans were stolen from their homes."
The work is set to be officially unveiled Friday, the day before Juneteenth.
In the last 24 hours lawmakers in Washington D.C. took historic votes to approve the creation of a federal holiday on June 19 to recognize the end of slavery. "That the government is recognizing Juneteenth is a blessing, "said King. "But the federal government of this country needs to apologize to African descendants."
The holiday was originally created by African Americans in Texas in the 1860's after learning slavery had ended with the Emancipation Proclamation.
African American Studies Professor James Taylor says the holiday has a rich cultural context and should be celebrated. "The reason why Juneteenth is so important is because Black people held it up, like they did Memorial Day, as their regular ritual until the country came around, and it was their way of recognizing that slavery happened, and slavery ended," said Professor Taylor.
But, he says he has misgivings that the federal government celebrating the holiday could lessen it's cultural significance, and act to placate those who are pushing for real recognition of the harm caused by enslaving people of African descent.
"I think we have to be careful with these recognitions because these recognitions often lead to the weakening of the very impetus or the very sentiment behind them," said Professor Taylor.
There are numerous Juneteenth events already scheduled around the Bay Area, including a film festival in San Francisco and a celebration at the Ferry Building and numerous celebration in Oakland including at Lake Merritt.