This historic federal decree, made by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, officially declared the four million enslaved Black Americans living in the United States at the time legally free. News of the proclamation spread slowly from east to west over the subsequent two years, with Texas, the nation’s westernmost Confederate state at the time, being the last one to announce the freedom of every American, on June 19, 1865. Thus was the Juneteenth celebration born.
In the subsequent years and decades, the Black American community has celebrated the occasion to various extents – before Juneteenth officially became a universal American holiday through an act of Congress that President Joe Biden signed into law on June 17, 2021. In only its second year of federal recognition, Juneteenth has already brought forth an array of historically nuanced, remarkably creative and innovative cultural events. Read on to get inspired by major Juneteenth celebrations planned in cities throughout the USA.
Juneteenth celebrations in New York City
The city that never sleeps offered a weekend-long program of artistic and athletic events, ranging from an exhibition at the Park Avenue Armory featuring newly discovered work by artist Archer Aymes to a family-friendly Juneteenth march through Central Park, plus a festive Juneteenth 5K Run in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Tickets were open and available to all, with the 5K in particular being the perfect early-summer event for runners and walkers of all skills and age levels. New Yorkers and visitors alike are welcome and encouraged to participate in the run.
Lincoln Center provided an intriguing program called “I Dream and Dream That Dreams Back at Me”: A Juneteenth Celebration. This unique evening included performances of commissioned and original songs, some with lyrics by Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Lynn Nottage, and with performers in costumes by designer Dianne Smith. Grammy-winning Black American guitarist Cedric Burnside is also on the program; the night will be topped off by a DJed silent-disco dance party. This is sure to be a highlight of the summer cultural season – and of the whole year.
Juneteenth celebrations in Chicago
This world-class city is home to a long line of history-shifting Black Americans, from Jean Baptiste Point du Sable and Ida B. Wells to contemporary artist Rashid Johnson and Barack Obama. Juneteenth is the perfect moment to visit this always-exciting town and enjoy both the beautiful early-summer weather and the festivities.
The USA’s first independent museum dedicated exclusively to African American culture and history, the DuSable Museum of African American History in Hyde Park will be hosting numerous events. Visitors explored the museum’s extensively researched exhibits before heading to the nearby Juneteenth BBQ. This festive event had fun for the whole family, including horseback riding, plenty of food vendors, live music performances and a special area just for kids’ entertainment.
Those looking for an upscale evening out on the town for Juneteenth, ascended to the sky-high 99th floor of Chicago’s iconic Willis Tower for the city’s first-ever Emancipation Ball. The cocktail creations and drinks served were made with spirits made by Black-owned, Chicago-based brands, with art on display by Black artists. Served appetizers and an open bar only enhanced the views of the sparkling city skyline – which looked especially dazzling on this evening.
In the historically Black neighborhood of Bronzeville, Gallery Guichard there were displays some of the finest works and exhibitions in the city pertaining to the African diaspora, including sculpture, paintings, decorative arts and furniture. A pre-Juneteenth treat was a tour of the Bronzeville Art District Trolley, which dropped visitors off on the doorstep of the gallery.
Juneteenth celebrations in Houston
In the state where the very first Juneteenth celebration occurred, the festivities in Houston, Texas, have been seriously fun – and deeply meaningful – for over a century. Emancipation Park in the city’s 3rd Ward is the perfect example. One of the city’s best green spaces, it’s not only the oldest park in the entire Houston metro area – it was also the only public park accessible to Black Americans for the long periods of the segregation and Jim Crow eras.
With many days of exciting happenings, the famous Emancipation Park Conservancy Juneteenth Festival included a headlining performance by the Grammy-winning Isley Brothers, writers of global hits such as “Twist and Shout” (later covered by The Beatles) and “It’s Your Thing.”
A free and friendly local event, the 3rd Annual Juneteenth Celebration Vendor Market was also back for another year, with stall upon stall of handmade and homemade merchandise from over 50 Black-owned vendors. For an interactive experience that both gives back to the Houston community and promotes sustainability, visitors stopped by the Urban Community Garden Day on June 19 and volunteered to paint benches, weed, plant and other worthy tasks.
Juneteenth celebrations in Atlanta
This city of Atlanta is known nationally and internationally as a hub of Black American history – and its annual Juneteenth celebrations are back in swing and better than ever. Like Houston, Atlanta has been celebrating the holiday for decades and is well-versed in putting on a fine array of concerts, festivals, museum tours, athletic events and parties to suit every taste and budget.
The 5K Freedom Run is a crowd favorite, while the historic, three-day-long Juneteenth 10th Annual Atlanta Parade and Music Festival in Centennial Olympic Park is an annual must-attend. The festival offered everything from aerial flyovers to double-dutch competitions to a market with a 300-strong lineup of Black-owned vendors. Since Juneteenth this year coincided with Father’s Day, the festival also included dad-oriented celebrations, gatherings and speeches for those wanting a family-friendly experience.
Keep an eye out for visitors and partner groups from throughout the South as well as from countries in the Caribbean, South America, Africa and beyond. Juneteenth is an international affair here.
On June 17, the High Museum of Art in Midtown also opened a show of work by famed Black American artist Bob Thompson. “Bob Thompson: This House Is Mine” was the largest survey of Thompson’s work in two decades – and a more contemplative way to mark the holiday in between the parties.
Juneteenth celebrations in Portsmouth, New Hampshire
The Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire celebrates the legacy of African American communities in New England year-round. For Juneteenth, this organization put together two weeks of educational projects and polished arts programming at sites in Portsmouth and around New Hampshire.
In its own words, the Black Heritage Trail NH Juneteenth Celebration 2022 endeavored to “offer a provocative intersection of history, media, performance and ideas that deepen our understanding of our nation’s history and centers the Black experience.”
First up was a family-friendly screening of Disney Pixar’s Soul on June 10. A street-art workshop called “The Art of Erasure: Gone but Never Forgotten” took place all day on Thursday, June 16, and Friday, June 17, in the run-up to the main event(s).
The Juneteenth weekend then kicked off on Friday, June 17, in Manchester with a moderated panel discussion on public art, “Bearing Witness: Black Art in Public Spaces.” Back in Portsmouth on Saturday, June 18, visitors took in “Let it Shine,” a late-afternoon program by the Howard Gospel Choir at The Music Hall.
On the day of Juneteenth itself, the organization offered a live (and livestreamed) event at the African Burying Ground Memorial called “Uproar: A Celebration of African American Creativity.” This was a high-energy dance performance to “introduce audiences to the unique lineages…of African American dance.”