LEIMERT PARK, LOS ANGELES (KABC) — AyEsha Leonard McLaughlin and Ariyana Leonard are carrying on the Juneteenth tradition their father, Jonathan Leonard, and family brought to Southern California decades ago.

He was originally from the Third Ward neighborhood of Houston, Texas and moved to California in 1948.

“He noticed nobody was celebrating Juneteenth, no one knew what it was,” recalled Ariyana Leonard.

Mr. Leonard started an annual celebration in 1949. He is credited with inspiring the Leimert Park Juneteenth Festival that has hosted tens of thousands of people.

Although the annual festival did not take place this year, the Leimert Park merchants hosted a celebration Wednesday, and the Leonard family plans to keep their tradition going for generations to come.

Mr. Leonard passed away before Juneteenth became a federal holiday that commemorates June 19, 1865.

“The day that General Gordon Granger came to Galveston, Texas, to announce that the enslaved people were emancipated,” explained Ariyana Leonard.

They remember that day and their father with his barbecue recipe and staple Juneteenth foods and beverages.

“We also serve watermelon, which represents the traditional African colors. It was also a survival food for our ancestors who chose to seek freedom through escaping,” she said.

They received a recognition from L.A. Councilwoman Heather Hutt. The Leonard sisters remember why this holiday was important to their father.

“I get emotional talking about him, but I think the understanding where you came from and know where you’re going.”

Pernell Jones, who attended the celebration in Leimert Park Village, said there could still be more education about the holiday and said one component cannot be missing.

“I think you can’t have a conversation about Juneteenth or emancipation without having a conversation about reparations,” said Jones.

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