Juneteenth celebrations in the ‘Year of COVID-19’

16 mins read

Celebrating Black life and American history in the holiday, Juneteenth, is needed more than ever, even in a pandemic. This year you have options, in-person, or go virtual. 

In the wake of protests across the nation countering anti-Black police brutality, the celebration of the Texas-born African American festival, Juneteenth, emerged as an important day of observation.

Hillary Davis, of Dallas, told Ark Republic that the holiday is important in 2020 because “it displays a parallel for delayed justice for all Black Americans, and how even in a nation that has taken the measures to state that ‘every person is equal’, there are still systemic injustices done against Black people.”

Davis, who moved to Dallas from Atlanta, added that 155 years after the Juneteenth celebration, “We are continuing to try and free ourselves from those.  So, we celebrate it, especially this year, in an effort to convey a continued fight for rights that were never really given to us.  Years of racism, from Jim Crow laws to mass incarceration, have created barriers that have delayed some large amounts of progress.”

Juneteenth celebrates when Union soldiers arrived to Galveston, Texas in 1865 announce slavery was over, per President Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation.  Although the Proclamation had been issued over two years prior in 1863, the news had been kept from those enslaved in Texas. The mainstream narrative attributes the distance of the Lone Star State from the Union as the reasons for the late news. However, historians have overwhelmingly claim that slave owners and local officials withheld the declaration of emancipation to prolong profit from slavery.  When the Civil War ended in April 1865, General Granger’s troops mobilized to Texas in order to enforce emancipation. That day is noted as June 19th.

Like other parts of the former slaveholding territories, news of freedom was met with immediate days of celebration.   Many formerly enslaved people quickly moved away from their past masters, heading north or west.  The first Juneteenth commemoration was held the next year, in 1866.  From then on, it became a tradition to return to Galveston to celebrate where the joyful message was first announced. However, for those who did not return and settled in other places, they took the traditions with them.

Every year, in locations in the US, Juneteenth has been celebrated annually on June 19th ever since.

When George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officers, during the weeks of protesting, African Americans began to call for more visibility of Black life. Floyd, who was from Houston, was a descendant of those directly tied to celebrating Juneteenth. Calling for Juneteenth as a national holiday became more salient.

“Juneteenth is about more than a celebration of the day many African Americans first learned of the end of slavery; it’s an opportunity to start a needed dialogue to increase understanding and drive real change,” commented Detroit’s Mayor Mike Duggan to the Detroit Free Press.

Mayor Duggan added, “Throughout our nation’s history, laws and discriminatory policies were put in place and have done untold harm to people of color over generations. This year’s Juneteenth celebration comes at the right time for all of us to reflect and be reminded of the change that still needs to take place.”

However, this year’s celebration will be different from most.  As the country still grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, many communities are opting to hold virtual or socially-distant Juneteenth observances.  Davis noted that “given Covid-19, a lot of people have discovered more about Juneteenth, people who had never even heard about it before.  [Juneteenth] forces people to take a look at America and its past and be uncomfortable with it. I think it’s been posted about a lot more in recent weeks than in recent years, so I definitely think it will reach a wider audience.”

Today, 48 out of 50 states, Juneteenth is a recognized holiday. Right now, there is legislation to push it to be a federal holiday. Wherever you might be in the world, consider attending one or several of the celebrations below.

Galveston, TX

The original site of the Juneteenth celebration, this year, a memorial service will be held on Friday, June 19, from 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. on the grounds of Ashton Villa, 2328 Broadway (Avenue J), in Galveston. The Galveston Historical Foundation (GHF) in cooperation with the University of Texas Medical Branch will livestream the event.

In the afternoon, the GHF and local Galveston authors, Tommie Boudreaux and Alice Gatson discuss the history and contributions of African Americans in Galveston. The discussion is part of the GHF’s live lecture series and can be viewed on their Facebook live at 2 p.m. CST.

Oakland, CA

“An Unapologetic Juneteenth” fête carried out by creators of BBQ while Black annual cookout, says that we need to celebrate Blackness more than ever. There will be live music and food from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Moss Park. Although this is in-person, they’ve adopted the practice seen in San Francisco and Brooklyn parks to chalk out social distancing circles on the grass.

Phoenix, Arizona

Phoenix is offering a free, socially-distant and in-person event for those celebrating Juneteenth locally.  The Juneteenth Freedom Festival, from 2:00 to 8:00 p.m. on Friday, June 19 at El Dorado Park, will offer voter registration, sports competitions, Black history trivia, activities and games for children, music, raffles, food and drink, and plenty of ‘good vibes’ and togetherness.  The MAA Wellness Center is also providing an in-person event on Saturday, June 20 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

San Diego, CA

The Cooper Family Foundation has hosted this city’s Juneteenth for five decades. This year is no exception, but it has expanded to several other venues and more options for in-person, as well as virtual experience. Juneteenth in San Diego was launched by Sidney Cooper who transported the holiday from his native, Oklahoma. Today, there are many events.

The North San Diego County NAACP chapter is hosting a virtual event with on African drum performances, prayers and conversations on social justice through various panel discussions on Facebook from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The Old Globe and the George L. Stevens Senior Center will be livestreaming their annual Juneteenth performances https://bit.ly/OldGlobeJuneteenth. As well, they’re accepting donations to provide more resources to the seniors in the Skyline neighborhood.

Artists 4 Black Lives San Diego is holding a sit-in/sing-in at Balboa Park at 4 p.m. with local art displays and performances.

SD Melanin is hosting a Juneteenth bonfire and healing circle in a partnership with Black Boy Joy and TunnelVision Art , an art agency and collective of Black artists in Brooklyn.

Hartford, CT

The Amistad Center for Art and Culture is presenting a virtual celebration on Friday, June 19 from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.  The first hour will feature a jazz musical performance and virtual Juneteenth toast, with the second hour comprising the ‘Club Amistad Digital After Party’ with two local DJs.  Attendees are encouraged to wear Afro-centric attire.  This free event is a fundraiser for the Amistad Center.

Fort Lauderdale, FL

The South Broward County Juneteenth Virtual Celebration will occur on Facebook Live at 6:00 p.m. on Friday, June 19.  Activities will include storytelling, gospel music performance, artwork, Junkanoo dancers and stilt walkers, and motivational presentations.

Orlando, FL

In the Sunshine State, you can attend a socially-distant Juneteenth celebration from 3:00 to 8:00 p.m. on Friday, June 19th at the Silver Star Christian Church in Orlando.  The free event will include shopping, food, games, raffles, and performances of music and poetry.  The organizers of this event hope it will be a catalyst for civic discourse regarding racism in the United States today.

Atlanta, GA

Atlanta also offers several options for Juneteenth celebration, both virtual and in-person.  Online offerings include the Axis Replay Juneteenth Celebration, an e-gaming event all-day on Friday, June 19 that will feature discussions on inclusion in gaming, importance of voting and the holiday’s history, as well as a Fortnite competition featuring local celebrities; the Unexpected Atlanta Juneteenth Virtual Barbecue on June 19 and 20 at 7:00 and 7:30 p.m., which will focus on the history of the holiday, Atlanta’s significance in the post-Emancipation South, and the significance of barbecue in Juneteenth celebrations; the Juneteenth Virtual Celebration with the Sandy Spring Slave Museum, beginning on Thursday, June 18th at 7:00 p.m., will address the history and significance of the holiday through performances and talks by educators and historians, with several special guests; and the Virtual Juneteenth Music Festival, dubbed ‘The World’s First Virtual Global Freedom Festival’, will be livestreaming all day on Thursday, June 18, and will feature musical performances and art exhibitions:  the organization’s goal is to make Juneteenth a national holiday.  The OneRace March on Atlanta will also be occurring on Friday, June 19.  It will begin at 9:00 a.m. at Centennial Olympic Park, and is a non-violent, religious demonstration to call for liberty and justice in the city.

Cedar Rapids, IA

The African American Museum of Iowa in Cedar Rapids is hosting a week-long virtual event from Monday, June 15 to Saturday, June 20.  Educational videos will be posted daily, explaining the historical significance and modern implications of the Juneteenth holiday.  Viewers can use the hashtag #JuneteenthAtHome to participate and share their own celebrations from anywhere.

Boston, MA

The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston will offer a virtual Juneteenth community celebration on Friday, June 19 from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m.  The event will honor the contributions of Black creatives, scholars and artists to the City of Boston.  Activities will include a panel discussion on the history of Black people in Boston, a children’s story time, an interactive ceramic-making experience inspired by the work of Black artist Roberto Lugo, and performances of music and poetry.  It will be streamed live on Facebook and YouTube.

Detroit, MI

In the Motor City, a week-long virtual celebration awaits!  Beginning on the evening of Monday, June 15, the schedule includes talks on the history of the Black community in Detroit, mental health in the Black community, criminal justice reform, growing generational wealth, local Black-owned businesses, and the importance of education.  On Friday the 19, a mural created by Detroit youth during the week will be unveiled at a Freedom Rally in Spirit Plaza.  The mural will feature Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who led his famous Walk to Freedom march on Woodward Avenue in the city.  The online talks will be streamed on the City of Detroit Facebook page.

Washington DC

Juneteenth will be full of rallies on Friday in the nation’s Capital: Juneteenth Peaceful March and Rally: 9 a.m.-1 p.m.; Black Students Matter Rally: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Black Mamas March: 11 a.m.; Defend Black Women Feeder March: 1 p.m.; Freedom Day March: 2 p.m.; Defend Black Lives Event: 3 p.m.; Defend Black Lives Event; Defend Black Lives Event: 5 p.m.; Don’t Mute DC Juneteenth Protest, Ward 7 March and Caravan; DC Juneteenth Front Yard Festival for Justice!

Kansas City, MO

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City is sponsoring a series of virtual events in honor of Juneteenth:  on Saturday, June 20 from 12:00 to 1:30 p.m., local journalists and filmmakers will meet on Zoom to discuss the documentary Who Killed Malcolm X and the film’s implications; and on the same day from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m., film critic Shawn Edwards will discuss how Black Americans have historically used the arts to protest injustices.  An exhibition of art by African-American artists is also available on the museum’s website.

Chicago, IL

Chicago is not playing with its Juneteenth celebrations. This week, over 70 Black-owned restaurants came together to offer Juneteenth specials in Black People eats campaign. While there are a number of outdoor and in-person events, here are some virtual choices on July 19: Old Town School of Folk Music’s Virtual Juneteenth Concert live streamed at 8 p.m.; Juneteenth Live Discussion With D-Composed Zoom session at 6-7:30 p.m.; Liberatory Practices By Seed Lynn and Sadie Woods on Facebook Live.

Black Census Day Juneteenth Celebration will be hosted by DJs Tone Kapone and Sean Mac on Instagram Live from either DJ’s account: @ToneKapone33 and @Sean_Mac_ at 7-8:30 p.m.

Saint Louis, MO

Trailnet, the Missouri Historical Society, and Black Girls Do Bike are collaborating to present a Juneteenth Celebration Community Ride on Saturday, June 20, beginning at 9:00 a.m.  The bike ride will be a scavenger hunt, leading attendees to locations of historical significance in Saint Louis.  Register here.

Portsmouth and Manchester, NH

For Juneteenth this year, the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire is presenting several online events centered around Soul food and Soul music in the Black community.  The celebration begins on Thursday, June 18 at 3:00 p.m. with a Soul Food Cooking Show with chef Selina Choate, which will be livestreamed on Facebook and Zoom.

On Friday, June 19 at 1:00 p.m., there will be a drumming presentation by the Akwaaba Ensemble at the Portsmouth African Burying Ground called Music to Celebrate Our Ancestors:  register on Zoom here.  On Friday at 7:00 p.m., a concert by the Negro Ensemble Company New York will feature iconic songs that defined African-American culture through the decades and will be livestreamed on Facebook.  Finally, on Saturday, June 20 at 10:00 a.m., a panel of scholars will meet on Zoom to discuss “The Diet of Our Ancestors: What History & Science Reveals”, an investigation into the origins of Soul cooking (register here).

Los Angeles, CA

Carrying out some of the largest and longstanding Juneteenth celebrations outside of Texas, Los Angeles is offering a  number of in person or motorcade events. On Crenshaw at 2 p.m. Black Tradition Caravan & March. Starting at Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama boulevards.

In Downtown Los Angeles at 10 a.m. Juneteenth March For Our Lives. Starting at Flower and Washington and ending at Grand Park. Sponsored by Los Angeles Trade-Technical College ASO.

In Inglewood, a Juneteenth parade will be held from 12 p.m. – 2 p.m. Starting at The Forum in the Kareem Court, 3900 W. Manchester Blvd. Motorcade will travel through Inglewood, View Park, Windsor Hills and the Crenshaw District, ending at the Pray for the Hood event hosted by music artist and entrepreneur Six Sev.

Situated in Leimert Park from 11 a.m. – 7 p.m there will be Leimert Park Rising, an annual Juneteenth celebration in Leimert Park Village, W. 43rd Pl. and Degnan Boulevard.

Going inland, in Pomona, at 8 am, a march from the African American Museum of Beginnings parking lot to the Juneteenth Monument at Ganesha Park, presented by Black Arts Los Angeles.

Albany, NY

Albany’s African American Cultural Center welcomes visitors to its outdoor reflection garden on Saturday, June 20 from 12:00 to 3:00 p.m. to celebrate freedom, grieve loss and reflect together.  Free soul-food dinners will be available for pick-up at the Center.  The event’s live musical performances will also be streamed on Facebook for those unable to join in-person.

Brooklyn + Los Angeles

Celebration of Black Liberation in the virtual seminar series going on all day. From 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. join back-to-back sessions ranging from mediations to conversations on liberation, justice, ancestors and culinary foodways. Go to their site or access through the hashtag #virtualjuneteenth2020.

Buffalo, NY

The Juneteenth Festival of Buffalo is the largest celebration of its kind in the country, and is normally a days-long event held in Martin Luther King, Jr. Park in the city.  It usually includes a parade, presentations of art and culture, ‘edutainment’ events, tours of Buffalo’s underground railroad and important sites of Black history, and an abundance of vendors.  This year, it was held on Facebook in a five-hour celebration that included song, prayer, yoga, and conversations on racial justice and Black history.  The recording is available online.

New York, NY

Juneteenth NYC will be a virtual event held on Saturday, June 20th from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.  The theme this year will be “Changing The Narrative By Creating Attributes of Community Healing”.  The celebration will feature a live DJ throughout the day, live musical performances, artistic demonstrations, and opportunities to purchase crafts from local vendors.  Throughout the day, there will be opportunities to participate in games to win prizes.  The organizers encourage attendees to wear the color orange, as it symbolizes strength and endurance.  Register here.

Durham and Raleigh, NC 

The Triangle has several virtual and in-person Juneteenth events.  Online, the Bounce Back RDU virtual storytelling event will be livestreamed on Facebook on Friday, June 19 at 7:00 p.m., and will feature eight Black Americans sharing an experience of hardship that they resiliently ‘bounced back’ from.  The Town of Carrboro is offering a virtual presentation called “Resolution in Recognition of 400 Years of the African American Story” all day on Friday, June 19 on their YouTube channel.  As for in-person events, they include East Durham’s Juneteenth Celebration Car Parade on Saturday, June 20 from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., which will include free voting information and ice cream; Raleigh’s Juneteenth Festival and Community Cookout on Saturday, June 20 beginning at 1:00 p.m. featuring music and free food and drink; Durham’s Juneteenth Open-Air Market to celebrate Black excellence on Friday, June 19 from 4:00 to 9:00 p.m., which will feature Black vendors, food and drink, live jazz music; and perhaps a visit to the Off Grid in Color farm in Moncure for a free Juneteenth farm tour on Friday, June 19 from 5:00 to 7:45 p.m (sign up here).  The Stagville State Historic Site in Durham, which was once one of the largest plantations in the South, will be offering a panel discussion on Zoom at 12:00 p.m. on Thursday, June 18.  Register here.

Winston-Salem, NC

Triad Cultural Arts in Winston-Salem is presenting a virtual Juneteenth celebration on Saturday, June 20 from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m., which will include demonstrations of cultural traditions like cooking, crafts, and dance, as well as a virtual Miss Juneteenth pageant, and guest speakers including film producer Neil Creque Williams.  The event is available to watch on local television as well as on Facebook.

Cincinnati, OH

Cincinnatians can watch virtual Juneteenth celebrations from Friday, June 19 to Sunday, June 21st at 7:00 p.m. each evening on television and YouTube.  The broadcasts will feature live music from local Black artists, dance performances including a Brazilian Samba presentation, and educational programs detailing the history of Black people in Ohio.  Sunday will feature a special Father’s Day Concert.

Philadelphia, PA

The Johnson House Historic Site will host a Juneteenth festival virtually on Saturday, June 20 from 12:00 to 5:00 p.m.  The event will feature historic reenactments and musical performances, and will be live-streamed on Zoom.

Rock Hill, SC

The community of Rock Hill will virtually commemorate Juneteenth on Friday, June 19 at 7:00 p.m. on Facebook livestream.  The event will feature presentations from local artists and musicians, as well as presentations of scholarships and coloring contest awards.  At 5:00 p.m., a peaceful protest will occur in Confederate Park in Rock Hill, to encourage city leaders to change the park’s name to Liberty Park.

Austin, TX

In Austin, the George Washington Carver Museum is hosting a virtual event called Stay Black and Live.  It will be live streamed on Facebook from 6:00 to 10:00 p.m., and features a music and spoken word performance series, raffle, and virtual after-party.  At 5:30 p.m., free barbecue meals will be available at the Museum’s parking lot in Austin.

Dallas, TX

In Dallas, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center is presenting a drive-through Juneteenth celebration in its parking lot.  Participants can arrive anytime between 10:00 AM and noon to receive free non-perishable food and household products, all while remaining in their cars.  The Community Center is still seeking donations and sponsors for this event.

DeSoto, TX

DeSoto, Texas is organizing the ‘best Southwest Juneteenth celebration’:  every night from June 15 through 19, join the virtual experience on YouTube from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. for an hour of spoken word, dance and musical performances.  The final night features a performance from the Inspiration Band.

Houston, TX

The Space City has four virtual Juneteenth events:  the Juneteenth Music Soul Live Show streaming live on Facebook on Friday, June 19th at 9 p.m.; the ongoing We Are Juneteenth virtual campaign on Facebook, which will include panel discussions, entertainment, spotlights on Black-owned businesses, and recognition of leaders in the community; Houston Community College’s virtual Protect Your Peace speaker event at 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday, June 16th, which will focus on mental health and includes a panel discussion (register here); and the Six Lanes Foundation Juneteenth Livestream, a Black-owned virtual music festival, on Friday, June 19 from 1:00 to 6:00 p.m., which will stream on their website.

If you are local, you may be interested in the Black Lives Matter Juneteenth Bike Ride at Guadalupe Park on Saturday, June 19 at 7:00 p.m.; the Third Ward Black History in the Making Bike Tour beginning on Elgin Street at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, June 20; the Juneteenth Summerwood Unity Walk on Friday, June 19 at the Summerwood Central Club House; the BLCK Market Juneteenth Celebration at the Buffalo Soldier National Museum on Saturday, June 20 at 1:00 p.m.;  the Juneteenth celebration in the community of LaMarque at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, June 20; or the Funnel Bar Juneteenth Pop-Up Event on Friday, June 19th at 2:00 p.m.  Be sure to bring a mask!

Salt Lake City, UT

The community in Salt Lake City is providing several events, both virtual and in-person.  Virtual celebrations include the Our Town, Our Story: Genealogy & Storytelling livestream on Monday, June 15th at 7:00 p.m., which features members of the Utah Afro-American Historical & Genealogy Society and Nubian Storytellers of Utah Leadership and will focus on documenting family history; the BOSS:   the virtual State of Black Utah Town Hall, live on Facebook on Friday, June 19th from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m., which will focus on the mental health of Black youth in this time of crisis and will feature Jazzalyn Livingston from the NAACP; the Juneteenth Festival and Holiday livestream on Saturday, June 20 from 2:00 to 6:00 p.m., featuring musical performances, poetry and spoken word, and dance; the Juneteenth Gospel Sunday and Father’s Day Tribute on Sunday, June 21st from 2:00 to 6:00 p.m., featuring local gospel choirs and acclaimed musical director and minister J. David Bratton.  In-person events include the Juneteenth Day Flag Raising at the Salt Lake County Government Center on Friday, June 19 at 11:30 a.m.; and the Juneteenth Commemorative Caravan in Ogden on Saturday, June 20 at 11:00 a.m., a car and truck parade to show solidarity and unity that will begin at the Marshall White Community Center.

Charlottesville, VA

James Madison’s Montpelier Estate Historic Site is offering a month-long virtual Juneteenth celebration from June 1 through 30.  Viewers can learn about African-American history in Orange County, Virginia, watch historic reenactments and artistic performances, and purchase products from local vendors.  The Estate will also offer three virtual events:  a virtual walking tour of the Estate and its site of emancipation on Saturday, June 20 at 2:00 p.m.; and a book talk with Bettye Kearse on Thursday, June 25 at 7:00 p.m. to discuss her book “The Other Madisons”.  These virtual events can be accessed here.

Seattle, WA

In the Emerald City, the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle has put together a week-long virtual program which includes young-adult discussion panels, a special children’s program, workshops, cooking demonstrations, musical performances, interactive games, online yoga, and more.  These virtual events will be presented from Monday, June 15 to Sunday, June 21, with postings happening throughout the day.  Some meetings will also occur on Zoom.  To top it off, on Saturday, June 20 from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m., a barbecue meal pick-up event will occur at the Church by the Side of the Road in Tukwila.

From Vermont to the world, Sophia Moore Smith is an investigator, gardener, reader, and lover of language.

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