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Daughters remember their father — the man who brought Juneteenth to San Diego

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It's time now for StoryCorps. Sunday is Juneteenth, and Monday will be celebrated as a federal holiday, one year after the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act became law. Today, we will hear about one father who spent decades celebrating the day when no other family in his neighborhood did. In the early '50s, Sidney Cooper settled in Southern California. He was a Black business owner in a predominantly white area. Recently, two of his daughters, Marla and Lana, came to StoryCorps to talk about their dad.

MARLA COOPER: I remember Dad always smiling, and he just did not meet any strangers, never. He would get up and start walking down the avenue, and everybody would be like, hey, Coop. What's up, Coop? Here comes the mayor.

(LAUGHTER)

LANA COOPER-JONES: That's right. Everyone started calling him the mayor of Imperial Avenue. You know, we had a produce stand, and he gave credit to people who didn't have money to pay for groceries until they got their next check.

COOPER: Dad used to always tell us, you are not any better than anyone, but you are not any worse. Our father was not a rich man, but it was really important to Dad to be proud of who you are and to always give back.

COOPER-JONES: Right. He was a proud Black man. And ever since we were kids, he taught us the history of Juneteenth, that it's the end of slavery, and he wanted everybody to celebrate that day, not just African American people. But people didn't want him to talk about it. So we would go to the park with just family and close friends.

COOPER: I remember us having a lot of food and it being like a picnic. And a lot of kids of different races came around, and they wanted to eat. Dad was like, yeah, everybody's going to eat.

COOPER-JONES: Exactly. And that's how he was. So he opened it to everybody in the park.

COOPER: Yeah. I would invite my friends. Like, you don't know what Juneteenth is? Girl, you better come and see. And they were like, you Coopers sure know how to give a party.

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER-JONES: Daddy had probably 200 people. Now we have thousands that come and celebrate.

COOPER: Right.

COOPER-JONES: It's like a family reunion, and people that haven't seen each other in years come together.

COOPER: You know, there's no book that says how to be a great dad. But he said, I can show you by example.

COOPER-JONES: Our father taught us to love ourselves, to love our color. And if he was here and knew it was a federal holiday, he'd be shouting from the mountains, telling everybody about time, about time.

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MARTIN: Lana Cooper-Jones and her sister Marla Cooper, remembering their father Sidney, who died in 2001. Their family will celebrate Juneteenth this weekend, as they have for the last seven decades. This conversation will be archived at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Janmaris Perez