The printed T-shirts at Juneteenth are proof that no matter the message, Black L.A. will always — and quite literally — find a way to say it with their chest. Malcolm X watching down from the clouds. A proud Pan-African color explosion. That one scene from “Baby Boy” where Yvette is yelling at Jody. Nostalgic tributes to fallen Black icons, in-loving-memory-collage style. Political statements that point not to what we’ve lost, but what we don’t have yet. Dedications to the holiday itself.
It’s tradition: Using a forward-facing garment as a way to tell a story about your culture, point to a shared reference, exhibit pride in where you come from or to honor an identity. You wear these things as a means to connect with others, hoping someone might catch a glimpse in the crowd and think, “Dope shirt.”
Image spent the day at Leimert Park Juneteenth Festival taking stock of the day’s best T-shirts. From the personal, to the artful, to the serious, to the campy — here is the official ranking of our favorites.
19. Tina Edwards, 62, from Leimert Park
“It’s Juneteenth. And I thought it was special for me to represent.”
18. Corisha Jack, a.k.a. DJ Cori J, 32, Compton
“It was in between this and a Tupac shirt from ‘Juice.’ It’s nostalgic, that’s why I picked it.”
17. Ashley and DJ Merritt, Phoenix
“It’s just time for us to celebrate. Instead of July 4, now we can celebrate Juneteenth. It’s letting us know that we were set free this time. Juneteenth is our holiday,” says Ashley. DJ is originally from L.A. and wanted to come back for Juneteenth.
16. Azondé Neré Gordon (a.k.a. Azondé the GOAT), L.A.
“To me, it means when I’m going out and I roll up my blunt, I don’t want it to get crushed or lost. There’s a perception about stoners and how they are. But I [smoke] in a productive way. I was like, let me make some fun.”
15. Dev, West L.A.
“It was Tupac’s birthday not too long ago. I [wanted] to connect to the community as well as represent the community.”
14. Imani Ward, 25, Leimert Park
“It’s from this brand called God Is Dope. I got this about a year ago. I felt like I could be myself here, and I wanted to wear something that would make me feel good.”
13. Randall Gray, 41, Beverly Hills
“This shirt is a part of the culture. Nipsey represented the community. He’s one of the reasons we’re here today in unity.”
12. Dawnyell Dixon, 25, Compton
“I thought it would be cool to show the culture. It’s a movie we’ve all seen before.”
11. Donovan Newman, 25, Chino
“It’s really just that Pan-Africanism is my s—.”
10. Desmond Gooden, 30, Long Beach
“This is my homie’s brand, Squad S— Only. I felt in the spirit, you feel me? Support my ancestors that did this for us. We’re about to take it global. We’re about to take it farther than they could have ever even imagined.”
9. Danielle Harvey, South Central
“I grew up in South Central during the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s when it was not the place to be. Now that they’re out here gentrifying us, I figured we better represent the original. I’m also a proud homeowner in South Central. We’re going to stop gentrification.”
8. Darachanel Parker, 29, Van Nuys
“Anti Social Black Girl: It’s like, Respectability politics? I don’t owe you kindness.”
7. Dale and Tessa Herron, L.A.
“This is a representation of Black culture. Coming out and seeing Black L.A., this is one of the very few events that we get to come out and express ourselves as a whole. To me, this event is a total vibe. As is Blackness,” says Dale Herron.
“We got it from a Black-owned business, it’s called Blood of a Nation,” says Tessa Herron.
6. CJ Lewis, 24, Long Beach
“Any time that [the cops] are around, they make me nervous. The fact that these normal people can have that much power and sometimes when you give certain people that power, they take advantage of it. That almost always costs us Black lives.”
5. Caleb, 5, and 8-year-old twins Jacob and Grace, L.A.
“They’re wearing Juneteenth shirts that say ‘Free-ish since 1865’ because we’ve never really been truly free from the oppression of our nation,” says their mom, Charity Chandler Cole.
4. Habibi Mitchell, co-founder of Guilty USA, with Gbemi Mustapha, wearing the L.A. brand’s T-shirt
“This T-shirt came to fruition from seeing the change in this neighborhood, specifically. I used to live right around the corner, my grandparents have had that house for 12 years now. Seeing the neighbors now compared to who they used to be, it’s like a whole different city. A whole different atmosphere.”
3. MJ, 28, South Central
“We got a contemporary archive going — ITS-IN-SCOPE — holding space for a study with the homies and then transmuting that into artifacts across forms. Some tees, some text, some visuals, some audio projects. This tee is recycling ideas, recycling materials, just to continue figuring things out. This one very much speaks for itself. Malcolm speaks for me: Be a builder, not a beggar. Really just the energy of building practice — really ground-up building.”
2. Brandon Anyanwu, 24, Inglewood
“Jesus looks like us, you feel me? We gotta show our knowledge of ourselves.”
1. Zee of Zee Printing, L.A.
“In Leimert, something like this is most popular. It’s very controversial and it’s a statement. [People] want to represent something or be a part of a movement.”