The Rachel Townsend Apartments at 1750 McAllister Street rise twelve stories above San Francisco’s Western Addition. Rachel Townsend’s legacy stands taller.
The daughter of prominent Fillmore minister and NAACP Vice President, Reverend Arnold Townsend, political activism was imparted on Rachel from a young age. Rachel lent her time to local churches, working with fatherless young girls. She campaigned for local Black candidates like Mayor London Breed. She reconnected youth to a proud history and community of Black rodeo.
Rachel is most profoundly known for her role as a driving force behind San Francisco’s Juneteenth celebrations, and in 2013 she began organizing the city’s entire Juneteenth event. Juneteenth in San Francisco is the longest continuous urban Juneteenth celebration throughout the country. The struggle for the survival and revival of Juneteenth in San Francisco that Rachel so resiliently fought for in many ways mirrors the history of the Black community across San Francisco that has combatted forced displacement from the Fillmore and Western Addition since WWII. As her father Rev. Townsend notes, “Even at this time when our population is dwindling, and it looks so hopeless, there will always be a Black presence. It’s to mark that we were once here. Some child is going to always ask: Who was she? Who was Rachel Townsend?”
After Rachel’s sudden passing in 2018, Mayor London Breed joined community leaders and HomeRise in December of the same year to celebrate the rehabilitation and rededication of 1750 McAllister Street as the Rachel Townsend Apartments. The following year’s Juneteenth celebrations were named in her honor, commemorating her work to hold space for Juneteenth in San Francisco.
What is Juneteenth?
“June 19, 1865, two years after President Abraham Lincoln presented the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, slaves in Texas finally received word: They were free. Black communities in Texas and beyond annually celebrate this day, Juneteenth, which officially became a federal holiday in 2021.” Source: NAACP | Juneteenth
San Francisco’s Juneteenth History:
Juneteenth was introduced to San Francisco’s Western Addition community by Wesley Johnson, a Texas native. Celebrations spread throughout the 1940s, mostly in smaller community spaces such as churches and Black-owned nightclubs, the latter of which played host to Fillmore’s thriving, “Harlem of the West”, jazz scene. 1950s and 1960s federal redevelopment policies carried out by the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency later decimated large swaths of the Fillmore in the name of slum clearance and urban renewal, destroying much of the existing building stock including many of the buildings that once housed Juneteenth commemorations. From the 1960s onward, Juneteenth morphed into the public celebrations more commonly seen today. Shrinking political support from City Hall, in part a reflection of San Francisco’s declining Black population, forced the community to shoulder much of the burden for organizing and running the city’s Juneteenth celebration. One pillar of this community work we honor today, was Rachel Townsend.
Learn more about Rachel Townsend and San Francisco’s Juneteenth Celebrations here: