On Thursday, June 17, 2021, President Biden signed a bill into law certifying the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day became one in 1983. Juneteenth (short for June 19) commemorates the date slavery was abolished in Texas and marks the official end of slavery in the U.S. Although President Abraham Lincoln declared in his Emancipation Proclamation that as of January 1, 1863, all enslaved people living in Confederate states were free, somehow that news did not reach Texas until June 19, 1865, when Union troops arrived in Galveston.
Last year, federal employees were notified the day before that they’d be enjoying a long weekend, so many celebrations for what is also called Jubilee Day, Freedom Day and Emancipation Day were spur-of-the-moment. This year will be different! Festivities and observances are planned nationwide. Since the South is where the tradition started and where our ancestors fought for freedom, Sisters picked five Southern cities with festive Juneteenth activities planned (scheduled between June 17 and 19, 2022, unless otherwise noted) and other cultural highlights. But this is a small sampling of festivals and events taking place across America. If you’re not planning a long weekend out of town, check your local news site for activities.
In the birthplace of Juneteenth, there’s an annual parade and picnic, plus a 5,000-square-foot “Absolute Equality” mural downtown overlooking the site where Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger shared the good news that all enslaved people were free. Near the mural, start an app-guided “Freedom Walk” tour of five historic sites, including Reedy Chapel AME Church, and learn about their connection to the Juneteenth holiday. Continue sightseeing at Jack Johnson Park with a statue honoring the heavyweight champ and hometown hero, and enjoy waterfront dining at Pier 21 on the city’s harbor.
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston kicks off its Juneteenth celebration early with the Root of Soul J19th Fest (June 11), which boasts gospel music, African dance, a kid zone with face painting, a poetry slam and Lowcountry food favorites. Other fun options include the Lowcountry Juneteenth Experience (June 11-19), highlighting the region’s Gullah culture; Lowcountry Juneteenth Week (June 13-19), featuring performances by Midnight Star and Dave Hollister; and the Juneteenth Family Fest (June 18), a community event filled with art, dance, food and good vibes only. To explore more, visit the historic Charleston City Market and the Old Slave Mart Museum.
The home of the blues has several soulful Juneteenth activities planned, including the Memphis Juneteenth Festival, with a 2.5-mile walk/run, a car show, a Greek step show and a free outdoor festival; the Juneteenth Shop Black Festival, with food trucks and vendors; and a Juneteenth Gala and Festival Weekend, featuring an Afrofuturism-themed gala on Beale Street Landing, a riverboat after-party and a family-reunion-style festival with live performances, games, food and shopping. While in Memphis, walk through history at the National Civil Rights Museum, located at the former Lorraine Motel, where Dr. King was assassinated; the Stax Museum of American Soul Music; and the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum.
Double down and celebrate Juneteenth and Father’s Day weekend with live music, dancing, soul food, a parade and special activities and fireworks especially for Dad at the 10th annual, three-day Juneteenth Atlanta Parade & Music Festival at Centennial Olympic Park. Also located in downtown Hotlanta , visit the family-friendly National Center for Civil and Human Rights, World of Coca-Cola and Georgia Aquarium.
Make a joyful noise in H-Town at a free, two-day celebration in Emancipation Park, a 10-acre park founded in 1872 by four local freedmen, with scheduled performances by the Isley Brothers, Sheila E., Maze featuring Frankie Beverly and Kool & the Gang. Another cool option is the BLCK Market event, featuring a bevy of Black-owned businesses, live music and food trucks in the city’s historic 5th Ward. For culture, visit the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, and bike around Beyoncé’s stomping grounds with 3rd Ward Tours.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
A fan of music, dance and cats, Tracy E. Hopkins is a lifestyle and culture writer who has contributed to numerous print and digital publications, including Essence, Woman’s Day, Prevention, Fodor’s and Entertainment Weekly. Tracy is also an award-winning documentary film producer (http://www.mauricehinesmovie.com), and she enjoys storytelling that inspires, uplifts and reflects the beauty and complexity of the African American experience.