This year, the awareness around and the importance of honoring the history of the African American community can be felt throughout the United States. One of the most esteemed events is called Juneteenth. Although this day is commonly referred to as the day that slavery ended, there’s a more detailed story behind this celebration.
While the Emancipation Proclamation was signed into effect on January 1, 1863, by Abraham Lincoln, making the end of slavery in the US, it took an additional two years for the last slave to be notified of their freedom. Since many states under Confederate Control disregarded the notice, it wasn’t until after the Civil War ended when Union Troops were able to reach every state to notify all enslaved people that they were freed.
In Texas, the last state to be notified on June 19, 1865, the newly freed people enacted a day to commemorate the historic end of their enslavement. Combining the words ‘June’ and ‘Nineteenth’, Juneteenth was born. For over 150 years in many communities all over America, this day has been celebrated for a weekend, a week, or even a full month month as families, neighbors, and activists organize community gatherings, host guest speakers, gather at picnics, rejoice with live music, and more.
To limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, many parades and events have been canceled or postponed. Along with marches for justice happening throughout the country, there are still plenty of ways to celebrate Juneteenth this year, both in person and online. If you’d like to honor the significance of this day and are looking to take part in your local initiatives or take part from afar, we’ve compiled a list of activities you can participate in:
Tune in or Turn up for New York’s Juneteenth Celebrations
New York, NY
To honor the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth, the Capital One City Parks Foundation SummerStage is hosting a virtual day of dance. Head to SummerStage Anywhere’s Instagram page for all-day dance performances by Isio-Maya Nuwere of Harlem School of the Arts, the Black Iris Project, RudduR Dance, and more. Switch over to the SummerStage YouTube channel at 7 p.m. for a panel discussion titled “Reflecting the Times” led by Hope Boykin of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. The evening will conclude with a tribute performance of “HANGING TREE”, featuring Jamel Gaines of the Creative Outlet Dance Theatre, vocalist Marcelle Davies-Lashley, and poet Carl Hancock Rux. (https://cityparksfoundation.org/events/juneteenth/)
The Brownsville Heritage House has organized their very first Juneteenth celebration this year with the theme “Looking Back, Moving Forward, Letting Go”. This weekend-long event features collected artwork, works by local artists, poets, singers, and dancers, along with garden tours and slavery exhibits. Located at their office in Brooklyn, the festivities begin on June 19th at 6 p.m and end on June 21st at 8 p.m. You can head to their website for the full schedule. (http://www.juneteenth.com/8newyork_us.htm_)
Shop in Support of Juneteenth in Tulsa
Each year the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma hosts a weekend-long community event called Tulsa Juneteenth. Home to the Tulsa race massacre of 1921 – in which the entire town of affluent Black residents were burnt down and injured over 800 men, women, and children – their Juneteenth events are also celebrated in remembrance of that tragic event. Organized by a collective of Greenwood community organizations, partners and activists including, the Black Wall Street Chamber of Commerce, the Black Wall Street Times, Tulsa Juneteenth, and more, when it comes time to celebrate the streets fill up with live music, food and drink vendors, and offerings from local artists. (https://www.tulsajuneteenth.org/)
Due to social distancing restrictions, their esteemed weekend festivities have been postponed until June 18-20, 2021. However, that won’t stop the community of Tulsa from honoring the day this year. On Friday, June 19, several local businesses are donating a part of their proceeds to Tulsa’s Annual Juneteenth events as well as the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission. Browse the finest selection of wines from all over the world at Thirsty Wine, order fresh and organic Mexican food for pickup or delivery from Elote Cafe, or stop in to enjoy an evening of live music at the city’s only piano bar, Shady Keys Dueling.
The full list of participating restaurants, venues, and shops can be found on the Facebook page for TulsaPeople Magazine (https://www.facebook.com/TulsaPeopleMag/).
While the original event was postponed, just a week before Juneteenth, a call was put out online to organize an alternative event and it’s expected to attract thousands of visitors. ‘Get Up! Stand Up!’ A Celebration of Juneteenth and Black Music Month was organized by The Greenwood Chamber of Commerce along with several local businesses. This two-day, family-friendly gathering includes a kid’s zone featuring face painting, kickball, flag football, bounce houses, and water balloons. For all, there will be live music, vendors, and guest speakers taking to the stage. Several local and nationwide activists and leaders will reflect and spread inspiration, including Reverend Al Sharpton. There will also be COVID-19 screenings and voter registration and census registration sign-ups offered on-site. (https://www.facebook.com/events/259157528488548/)
The Capital Makes Juneteenth Their Own
The first annual ‘People’s Juneteenth Celebration’ includes ways to participate in person as well as remotely. A march will begin at the Metro PCS store on the corner of 7th and Florida Ave NW at 3 p.m. From there, the conversation goes online at the Make Gogo ForeverDC Facebook page with a virtual town hall on mass incarceration and racial inequalities, live-streamed from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Directly afterward, the town hall talk switches to the One DC’s People Talk hosted by Kymone Freeman. Stay tuned for a virtual afterparty, including a battle of the DJs, featuring DJ Dirty Rico, Big John, and Frank White until 11 p.m.
This partially virtual event is organized by Don’t Mute DC, which sprung up last year stemming from confrontations between the local go-go music lovers of the nation’s capital and newcomers to the district over a longstanding traditional of loudly playing the tunes in the Shaw area near Howard University. (www.dontmutedc.com)
Given that the main city-wide parade was canceled this year, the Juneteenth festivities will have a home-made feel in many residential neighborhoods in Washington, DC. What started as an initiative in Pentworth, the Juneteenth Front Yard Festival has now spread to several communities throughout the city. In an effort to honor social distancing guidelines, neighbors will cookout in front of their homes, play music, and from 7-7:09 p.m. there’ will be a call to bang pots or make noise, followed by a minute of silence to honor George Floyd. Music and dancing will resume until 10 p.m. (or as late as the neighbors allow). (https://www.facebook.com/events/652066498710674/)
Juneteenth Gatherings Throughout California
Several Cities, CA
There is no shortage of events honoring Juneteenth in California from family-friendly gatherings, sporty events, or local parades with ways to join online. In the Bay Area, Juneteenth at the Lake will begin at 1 p.m. in front of the Alameda County Courthouse of Oakland. There will be a march around Lake Merritt and until sunset, all are welcome to join for food, drinks, music, and guest speakers. There will also be an open mic offered throughout the day for members of the community to share and connect.
Across the Bay in San Francisco, the Bay Swimmers have organized a Swim Out in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Experienced swimmers are called to join in the peaceful swim and are asked to wear black bathing and white cap. Participants will meet at the San Francisco Aquatic Park Bleachers at 5:30 p.m. There’s no cost to attend this event but don’t forget your swimming gear! (https://sf.funcheap.com/bay-swimmers-in-solidarity/)
The San Francisco yoga community has organized a Peaceful Yoga Protest featuring local instructors of color. Make your way to Dolores Park (near the tennis courts) at 4 pm for an hour of meditation and practice. To participate remotely, watch the live stream of this event on Instagram by heading to the profile of @jseid. For admission to this yoga session, the organizers are asking for donations to the Trans Justice Funding Project, Anti-Police Terror Project, Equal Justice Initiative, or any nonprofit organization of your choice. (https://sf.funcheap.com/sf-peaceful-yoga-protest/)
There are also several parties and parades to join in person including Leimert Park Rising’s Juneteenth Festival featuring live music from dozens of artists in Los Angeles from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. (https://lahiphopevents.com/event/leimert-park-rising-juneteenth-festival/), the 2nd Annual Juneteenth Celebration at French Quarter Creole Bar & Grill with drinks, DJs, and delicious cajun food in Bellflower (https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2nd-annual-juneteenth-celebration-tickets-109514815762) or the Juneteenth 2020 event where your ticket includes a plate of food or drink along with a night of music and games from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. in Santa Monica. (https://www.eventbrite.com/e/juneteenth-2020-tickets-109925143062?aff=erellivmlt)
Whether you’re celebrating virtually or in person, Juneteenth is a day to reflect on the history of the country while honoring the freedom given to African Americans on this day. This year, many are working towards bringing that promise of freedom and equality to fruition for all Americans through peaceful marches and protests. If you decide to venture out, be sure to follow social distancing guidelines, and don’t forget your face mask!
Written by: Serita Braxton, June 19, 2020
Image: Lincoln, Abraham. “Emancipation Proclamation.” National Archives and Records Administration, 299998, January 1, 1863, https://catalog.archives.gov/id/299998