On Jan.1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation officially freed all enslaved people in the Confederacy. This happened during the Civil War, leading to many Confederate states ignoring it; however, after the Confederacy was defeated, Major Gen. Gordon Granger and Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, to enforce the order and free one of the last groups of slaves in the South. It had been two-and-a-half years since the Proclamation had originally been signed.
This year marks the 156th anniversary of that day—June 19, 1865—now celebrated as the holiday Juneteenth in commemoration of the emancipation of American slaves and the end of slavery in the South. Following the unjust murders of African Americans like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in 2020, the education of much of the country about this holiday, long celebrated in the South and in black communities, has brought it to the forefront of society as an important reminder of the freedom that American society had once taken from its black citizens and of the fight against injustice that continues today. It has even become the 12th federal holiday, with the HOR voting to approve the bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday and President Biden signing the bill into law this week.
As we head into what will be the first federally recognized Juneteenth celebration, here is a look at what communities in several Southern states will be doing to commemorate the day.
One of the most active locations includes Montgomery, where Destination Montgomery is holding several events “to honor the contributions of African Americans, through all chapters of our nation’s history, by observing storytelling and artistic expressions such as art, food, and music,” according to Executive Director Ashley Jernigan. On Friday, June 18, events begin at 6 p.m. with The Telling Experience at Union Station Train Shed, with a narrative of African American lives and culture from the pre-slavery period to modern day. Meanwhile, culturally significant foods will be shared alongside poetry, song, and reflection. Tickets for this event are $10.
The main events in Montgomery will occur on Saturday, June 19, beginning with Shout Hallelujah at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, beginning at 9 a.m. and lasting until 2 p.m. This event celebrates “African American artistic traditions” from the 1860s to the modern day, with a focus on traditions such as jazz, soul and sculpture. There will be performances from artists including Souled Out, Pastor Lee B. Walker, Jr, Jeremy Flyy and Amon Robinson. Beginning at 11 a.m. and lasting until 6 p.m. will be the main event, the Juneteenth Celebration, to commemorate African American freedom and educate on the African American experience. This will be held at the Rosa Parks Museum, which will also offer complimentary tours. The final event of the day will be Montgomery’s Global African Diaspora Celebration held at the Riverwalk Amphitheater from 4-9 p.m. This event will highlight African American art and culture through theatre, music, and dance. All listed events have no admission fees, and the city encourages bringing picnic items such as blankets, coolers and chairs, with the intention to stay and immerse yourself in African American culture.
Also in Alabama will be a new festival held in Selma by the Selma Center for Nonviolence, Truth and Reconciliation and the Black Belt Community Foundation. The festival is called the Juneteenth Freedom Fest held from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. in downtown Selma at the intersection of Alabama Avenue and Washington Street. The event is free to the public and will feature vendors and artists such as DJ Barack to celebrate emancipation. The event will also host a health village, in which attendees can receive COVID vaccinations.
One of the most prolific states for Juneteenth celebrations, Georgia features several events commemorating the holiday. Beginning in Atlanta is the Sweet Auburn Juneteenth Celebration, occurring at the Atlanta Breakfast Club from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Juneteenth. This will allow community members to meet the artists and explore the history of Sweet Auburn. Throughout the weekend will be the Juneteenth Atlanta Parade and Music Festival at Centennial Olympic Park, with times of 2-10 p.m. on June 18, 10 a.m.-11 p.m. on Juneteenth and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on June 20. The festival will host a rally and march dedicated to educating about African American history. This year’s parade theme is True Identity = True Freedom; Free The Land. The final event in Atlanta will be a PuppetPlaydate: Juneteenth Stories of Color at the Center for Puppetry Arts. This will focus on the retelling of African folktales The First Music and Abiyoyo. You’ll also be able to make an Anansi puppet.
Acworth will be holding the Concert on the Green: A Juneteenth Celebration, from 5-9 p.m. at Logan Farm Park in a celebration of Juneteenth on June 19. Tables can be purchased for $25 for a party of six, and live music will begin at 7 p.m.
Decatur will be holding its first ever Celebration of Liberated Spaces on Juneteenth from 4-8 p.m. This event celebrates the one-year anniversary of the removal of a Confederate monument from the city square, a testament to Juneteenth liberation.
Columbus will hold its second Juneteenth Celebration from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on June 19 at the Columbus Civic Center. Hosted by The Akili Society, the event will feature a parade beginning at the Liberty Theatre Culture Center and focus on educating about African American culture.
Athens will also hold a Juneteenth Celebration at the West Broad Farmers Market from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on June 19. The celebration will feature live music, performances and activities, as well as produce sales from local vendors. Masks are required for entry.
The Savannah African Art Museum in Savannah will be hosting events on Juneteenth to celebrate the holiday. Free to the public with masks required, the museum will feature music, storytelling, crafts, art, and a walkthrough of the West Africa collection in a celebration of black culture.
Tybee Island is hosting its sixth annual Juneteenth Wade In and Out Arts Festival from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on June 19 and June 20. The festival will start at the North Beach Grill in North Beach, Tybee Island with the Wade In from 9:30-11:30 a.m. on June 19. An African Art Exhibit in honor of Juneteenth will be held from noon-6 p.m. on both days at the Tybee Guard House. Also on both days will be the Juneteenth Art Festival from noon-8 p.m. at the Tybee Island Pier and Pavillion.
The Cobb County NAACP and City of Marietta will be hosting a Juneteenth Celebration in Marietta at Historic Marietta Square and Glover Park. It is free and open to the public and will run from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Juneteenth. It will include food, music, voting registration, live entertainment and information booths.
Milledgeville will also host a Labor Behind the Veil Tour at Georgia’s Old Governor’s Mansion at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. on June 19. These free tours will focus on the history of the slaves who were forced to work at the mansion and build it into the historical site it is today.
On Saturday, June 19, organizers in Jackson will host several events commemorating Juneteenth. Ujima Jackson and community organizers will be holding the Juneteenth Freedom Festival: Emancipation Fest & Rally for Peace from 4-8 p.m. on the corner of Farish Street and Monument Street in the Farish Street Black Business District. The event will focus on educating attendees about slavery and call for peace following violence breaking out in Jackson. The event is free of charge. Also aimed at education will be the Magnolia Sunset Markets, held from Friday through Sunday at varying locations around Jackson with varying prices of attendance. Within the market, plans are tours of two museums, a Sunday brunch and historical dancers and meditation events.
Also on Saturday the Judah School of Performing Arts will host a performance called Journey to Freedom at the Jackson Academy Performing Arts Center. The event will last from 1-3 p.m. and cost $25 for entry, with children under three years of age being free. It will focus on the history and advancement of African Americans.
The final event in Jackson will bring together vendors from across the south, including Jackson, Atlanta, Birmingham, Gulfport and Memphis. This event, called the Juneteenth Small Business Expo, will have merchandise to sell for the celebration of Juneteenth and will occur from 2-6 p.m. on Saturday, June 19, at the A-1 Event Center in Jackson.
From 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Juneteenth, Vicksburg will host the Vicksburg Juneteenth Heritage Festival featuring live music, vendors and food trucks while focusing on highlighting the history and importance of Juneteenth. Members of the African American community will also have access to assistance finding things such as affordable health care and adult education classes from some vendors. This will occur at the Vicksburg City Park and Pavilion and is free for admission.
North Carolina holds the Juneteenth Festival of the Carolinas in a multi-day event celebrating African American culture and educating on the importance of Juneteenth and modern-day emancipation. The opening ceremony occurs on Friday, including a drum circle, from 5-9 p.m. On Juneteenth is a day of prayer and a history of Juneteenth presentation, with the events lasting from noon-10 p.m. The final day of the festival is Sunday, June 20, featuring another session educating on the history and importance of Juneteenth. All events are in Charlotte, North Carolina in Plaza Midwood, and donations are appreciated.
The key event of this year’s festival will take place on Juneteenth at 9 a.m., with the Juneteenth Freedom & Unity March. This peaceful march, beginning at the Grady Cole Center and ending at the House of Africa will be held for the Black Lives Matter movement, in support of all those African Americans who have been killed by police. Every member of the march will hold a sign with the name of one of these individuals.
One of the largest events in the South is the South Carolina Juneteenth Freedom Fest held primarily in Columbia. Organized by community members, the event has an aim to “tribute the enduring and persevering spirit of African Americans” while educating African Americans about their history and allowing a space for self-reflection. The event will also provide resources to assist the African American community, such as COVID testing, Sickle Cell education, live musical performances celebrating African American culture and an awards ceremony honoring key figures in the South Carolina African American community.
On Friday, June 18 from 7 p.m.-midnight will be the Gala Noir celebrating Black Excellence at the Doko Manor in Blythewood, South Carolina. The main event of the weekend will be the Juneteenth Freedom Fest on Saturday, running from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Dutch Square Mall in Columbia, South Carolina, featuring performers such as The Manhattans and a Miss Juneteenth Pageant in a celebration of African American culture. Entry is free, though tickets can be claimed on the festival website, and donations are accepted.
The origin city of Juneteenth, Galveston will be hosting four major events in commemoration of the 156th anniversary. The events begin at 10 a.m. on Juneteenth with the 42nd Annual Al Edwards Celebration at Ashton Villa. This event, which is free to the public, will host a reading of General Order No. 3, the order read by Gen. Granger at his announcement of the emancipation in Texas. The second event of the day will begin at 1 p.m., with the Galveston Juneteenth Parade. It will begin at the intersection of 26th Street and Ball Street and end at the intersection of 41st Street and Ball Street. The main event of the day, lasting from 2-7 p.m., is the Galveston Island Juneteenth Festival adjacent to Kermit Courville Stadium. It will feature performers and vendors in celebration of Juneteenth, and will have fireworks beginning at 8:30 p.m.
In one of the most long-lasting and powerful southern traditions celebrating emancipation, Galveston’s Reedy Chapel AME Church will host the Emancipation March, beginning at 6 p.m., with all members of the public welcome to participate. The march will begin at the Old Galveston County Courthouse and end at the church on 2015 Broadway Avenue in commemoration of the first emancipation celebration in Galveston on Jan. 1, 1866, when over 800 men, women and children completed the same march. If in Galveston, also be sure to visit the new 5,000-square-foot mural painted by Reginald C. Adams on the side of the Old Galveston Square Building. The mural, called Absolute Equality, is a part of the Juneteenth Legacy Project to raise awareness about the holiday.
This is just a sample of the events and the states holding Juneteenth commemorations across the South. Be sure to look for local events to help educate yourself on the history of slavery and the continued need for total equality today.