Juneteenth, celebrated each year on June 19, commemorates the declared end of slavery in the United States.
Dating back to 1885 — two and half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation — the date marks the day that Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to announce “all slaves are free.” In December of that same year, the 13th amendment was ratified, formally abolishing slavery.
Though it has yet to become a national holiday — despite individual states, including New York as of Wednesday, declaring it so — Juneteenth is widely celebrated by Black communities across the United States annually. This year, Juneteenth has taken on heightened awareness, as protests calling to dismantle racist structures continue following the murder of George Floyd while in police custody.
“This is one of the first times since the ’60s, where the global demand, the inter-generational demand, the multiracial demand is for systemic change,” Cornell University professor Noliwe Rooks, a segregation expert, told AP. “There is some understanding and acknowledgment at this point that there’s something in the DNA of the country that has to be undone.”
As organizations continue to issue statements of support to the Black community with varying levels of commitment, many have also planned programming in support of activists, artists and thinkers. We’ve gathered together a selection of events below. Please note that a few of the highlighted celebrations are in-person and require the use of masks.
The National Museum of African American History & Culture presents a series of stories, photographs, videos and recipes to honor Juneteenth. Kicked off by a performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” sung by Rochelle Rice, the day-long event also features a story-telling session with Diane Macklin. A complete slate of content can be found here.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is commemorating Juneteenth with Donald Byrd’s “Greenwood.” Representing Byrd’s fifth commission for Ailey, the piece draws on the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, which devastated one of the most affluent African-American communities, known as “Black Wall Street,” in Oklahoma’s segregated Greenwood District.
Earlier this month the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center put out a Black Liberation List, filled with 95 titles centered on the Black experience. To continue, the institution launched a separate guide for young readers (divided into categories for kids and teens) as part of its Juneteenth celebrations, which also include storytimes with Mahogany L. Browne, Ibi Zoboi and Carole Boston Weatherford. At 2 p.m., the library will host the panel “Juneteenth: Creating Legacy in Contested Places,” which looks at the “artful negotiations of formerly enslaved African Americans.”
A full list of events can be found here.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will join Fred “Fab 5 Freddy” Brathwaite and others for a Juneteenth unveiling ceremony, revealing a 45-foot Black Lives Matter tribute at the intersection of Museum Mile and Harlem. The ceremony will include a statement by the Africa Center’s CEO Uzodinma Iweala.
Six Black museums and historical institutions have joined together to launch a digital commemoration of Juneteenth on its 155th anniversary. Starting at 12 p.m. with the release of a video, the day-long celebration will present a virtual panel with Deirdre Cooper Owens and Hasan Kwame Jeffries at 3 p.m. and conclude with a Juneteenth DJ set by Rimarkable at 9 p.m.
The digital commemoration video will encapsulate performances and presentations and will feature appearances by Lonnie G. Bunch III, Carla Hayden and Johnetta Betsch Cole. Participating institutions include Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, the Black Archives and Historic Lyric Theater, the National Civil Rights Museum and the Northwest African American Museum.
Though the annual SummerStage dance program is suspended amid the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers will present a slate of virtual performances for Juneteenth. The day kicks off at noon with an excerpt of Tamar-kali’s “Demon Fruit Blues.” Presentations from Ronald K. Brown/Evidence, Theresa Lavington Youth Group and Black Iris Project will also be featured. The day culminates at 7 p.m. with a panel discussion titled “Reflecting the Times” — led by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Hope Boykin — followed by a tribute performance of “Hanging Tree.”
Lineage Launchpad: Juneteenth Online Archival Conversation
When: June 19; 1 p.m.
Where: The Laundromat Project website; registration here
The Laundromat Project hosts an interactive online conversation about the “Black Image” — led by Creative Action Fund awardee Ann Bennett with guests Michele McKenzie and Marilyn Nance. The hour-long discussion will center on how archival images and collections can be used to trace visual lineages.
Elisa Monte Dance Artistic Director Tiffany Rea-Fisher will co-host the first annual Juneteenth March, and she has called on the dance community to join her. Dance/NYC and the International Association of Blacks in Dance will participate, among others. Please remember to wear a mask.
The Blacksmiths, Intersection Voices Collective and the Wide Awakes are joining together to host “Juneteenth Jubilee: An Artist-Led Celebration of Black Lives.” The program centers Black queer and trans members of the community and features several performances, with acts coming from Russell Hall, Michael Mwenso, Jacqueline Acevedo, DJ Bianca and more. A DJ set will start at 1:30 p.m., with the rally and march kicking off at 3 p.m. Organizers suggest participants wear white with a “touch of red.” Please remember to wear a mask.
The Brooklyn Movement Center, Audre Lorde Project and BYP100 are celebrating Juneteenth with a “Freedom Party.” The march is open to “Black bikers, Black walkers, Black movers of all kind.” This is an in-person event. Please remember to wear a mask.
BRIC will host a virtual town hall on the “state of freedom in Black communities as they grapple with COVID-19, benign neglect and state-sanctioned violence.” Moderated by BRIC TV Managing Editor Brian Vines, the event will feature New York City Council Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo; organizer and journalist Rosa Clemente; and Police Reform Organizing Project Executive Direct Robert Gangi.
Presented by Broadway Black as a Juneteenth award ceremony, the inaugural Antonyo Awards celebrates the achievements of Black theater artists. In addition to the much-anticipated announcement of the award winners, the evening will also feature a starry lineup of guest presenters, original musical numbers and performances. You can expect appearances by Audra McDonald, Tituss Burgess, Alex Newell, LaChanze, Jordan E. Cooper, Teyonah Parris, James, Monroe Iglehart, Jelani Alladin and more.
“In our first meeting we decided on Juneteenth for the awards, as it is a more accurate date of freedom from slavery for Black Americans,” Drew Shade, founder of Broadway! Black, said. “The Antonyos honor contributors to Black theatre from actors to stage and company managers, administrators and designers. Everyone in our community deserves to be acknowledged in what we hope will be a funny, authentic, celebratory event that is for us, by us.”
Presented by the American Slavery Project, with a special appearance by Phylicia Rashad, “Black Women and the Ballot” is an evening of short plays presented on a virtual stage. The night features three short radio dramas that “highlight rebellions large and small Black women have mounted to progress voting rights.”
Theaters across the country are uniting to read Vincent Terrell Durham’s new play “Polar Bears, Black Boys & Prarie Fringed Orchids.” The work, which will be presented simultaneously by theaters, explores issues of gentrification, white fragility, Black Lives Matter and police brutality in Black communities. All proceeds raised during the event will go toward a GoFund Me campaign benefitting Black theatre.
Top Image: A photo of a band at the 1900 Juneteenth celebration at Eastwoods Park. Photo: Austin History Center.