This Sunday marks Juneteenth, the United States’ youngest federal holiday, signed into law by President Joe Biden in 2021. It commemorates the day in 1865 when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, saw their freedom realized, over two years after Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Texas was the final Confederate state to announce the proclamation, and many enslaved people in the state were freed only after federal troops arrived to enforce the end of slavery.
Juneteenth — which received mainstream awareness during the wave of protests that took place in the summer of 2020 after the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless other Black individuals at the hands of police violence — recognizes the various unfreedoms that continue to affect Black people in the United States, despite the rights codified in the 14th Amendment. As people and corporations increasingly acknowledge and celebrate Juneteenth, the holiday remains one that contains the “twoness of jubilee and sorrow,” as Anthony Conwright wrote in the Nation. While it is an occasion for rejoicing, denoting the end of a brutal and dehumanizing institution that implicated the entire nation, it is also a reminder of persistent inequity and the unending fight for freedom.
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Several events around New York City this weekend invite the public to reflect collectively on Juneteenth through tours, workshops, discussions, and a variety of art activities. We’ve rounded up a selection of major events across the city in the list below.
Juneteenth NY Jubilee
Organized by the Juneteenth NY Organization
Juneteenth NY is the longest-running festival in New York celebrating the holiday, taking place over three days. This year’s theme is “Unity in the Black Family Unit.” Among the festival’s many events will be a fashion exhibition displaying the work of Black designers, musical performances by Iniko and Renée Neufville, and a quilt-making project that will invite participants to contribute their own patch in memoriam to loved ones that were lost to COVID-19. Food from Black-owned restaurants and food trucks will also be offered, and a limited number of discounted Uber rides to the festival will be available.
When: June 17–19
Where: Linden Park and Prospect Park, Brooklyn; see here for more details
Green-Wood Cemetery Trolley Tour and Free Art Activities
Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn’s very own rural and living cemetery that inspired the creation of New York’s public parks, is hosting a trolley tour that will visit the grave sites of historical figures who contributed to the fight for emancipation and civil rights for Black Americans. The two-hour tour will be headed by Jeff Richman, a Green-Wood historian, and Moses Phillips, a lecturer in ethnomusicology, music theory, and critical theory at Medgar Evers College. Phillips will also sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a hymn that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has recognized as a “Black national anthem,” at the grave of its composer, James Weldon Johnson. The cost to attend is $30 for non-members and $25 for members.
Beginning at 11am, free art-making activities will be available for families, as well as a suggested self-guided tour of the graves of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) individuals. A trolley will circulate between 11:45am and 2pm, and educators will share information about noteworthy stops.
Exploring the History of Seneca Village
Before Central Park was constructed, a Black community called Seneca Village thrived between 82nd and 89th Streets. The land was eventually seized through eminent domain, displacing existing residents. The Central Park Conservancy has undertaken continuing research and work to uncover more about life in Seneca Village during its 32-year history.
A series of Juneteenth events will celebrate the history of Seneca Village through art, dance, poetry, storytelling, and song. Spoken word artist and Grammy Award nominee Gha’il Rhodes Benjamin will tell stories about Seneca Village’s schoolhouse accompanied by five-string banjo player Ayodele Maakheru; singers and actors will reenact conversations that might have taken place between women inhabitants; and metalwork artist Myles Nurse’s “Dancing Ancestors” sculptures will be on display.
When: June 19, 10am–2pm
Where: Seneca Village Landscape, west side of Central Park between 82nd and 89th, Manhattan; more details here
Lewis Latimer House Juneteenth Celebration
Lewis Latimer was a Black inventor and autodidact who worked with the likes of Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell and played an important role in the invention of the telephone and the popularization of the incandescent light bulb. The house that he lived in for the last quarter-century of his life, located in Queens and operated by the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, will host its first-ever in-person Juneteenth celebration. A poetry and portraiture mini-workshop will celebrate Latimer’s wide-ranging creativity as also a writer and poet, and Dario Mohr — whose exhibition Blood is Thicker Than the Water that Separated US is currently on view at the Lewis Latimer House — will lead a “Sow the Seeds” workshop. Artist Sophia Chizuco will also guide a flag installation activity.
When: June 19, 2–4pm
Where: Lewis Latimer House, 34-41 137th Street, Queens; see here for more details
The Schomburg Center Literary Festival
The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a research library branch of the New York Public Library based in Harlem, is hosting its fourth annual literary festival — the first time it will be held in person since 2019. The day-long event will include workshops, discussions, and book signings with figures such as Jason Reynolds, Roxane Gay, and Linda Villarosa. The festival will also include craft-making activities, readings, and a celebration of books of all genres. As Novella Ford, an associate director at the Schomburg, said in a statement: “On a weekend where Black communities around this country mark the anniversary of Juneteenth, I can’t help remembering that reading was a revolutionary act every time a person of African descent defied society’s relegation of what enslaved persons should know about the world around them.”
When: June 19, 10:30am–6pm
Where: The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, 515 Malcolm X Boulevard (135th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard), Harlem; full festival schedule available here
Bryant Park Juneteenth Dance Celebration
This year, Bryant Park programmed a contemporary dance series throughout the month of June. It closes with a Juneteenth performance on the evening of Saturday, June 18, featuring Josh Johnson, who comes from Harlem and rose to fame tap-dancing on New York City trains; Music from the Sole, an acclaimed Afro-diasporic tap-dance group; and Earl Mosley’s Diversity of Dance, a mentorship organization for dance students.
When: June 18, 7–8:30pm
Where: Bryant Park, Manhattan; more details here
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Carl Hancock Rux at Harlem Stage, Park Avenue Armory, and Lincoln Center
The Park Avenue Armory is hosting a “retrospective” of the work of Archer Aymes, the fictional mixed-race subject of Talk, a play that premiered at Public Theater in 2002. The plot of Talk revolved around the late Aymes, an obscure writer and experimental filmmaker. Now, its playwright Carl Hancock Rux will be unveiling “newly discovered works by Archer Aymes” — including his film Mother and Son and ephemera from Aymes’s collection that together paint a portrait of racial injustice during the 21st century.
The exhibition is the second in a series of three events Rux is involved in celebrating Juneteenth this weekend. Tonight, Thursday, June 16, Rux and New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow will have a discussion on the Emancipation Proclamation and the lasting legacy of slavery at Harlem Stage. On Sunday, June 19, Rux will curate I Dream a Dream That Dreams Back At Me at Lincoln Center, a multimedia performance that includes original music by Vernon Reid and Nona Hendryx with lyrics by Lynn Nottage, a “musical recitation of a deconstructed National Anthem,” and rock and roots musical concerts.
When: June 19, 3–6pm
Where: Park Avenue Armory, 643 Park Ave, Manhattan; more details here
Brooklyn Museum “Freedom Ride” and Family Fun
The Brooklyn Museum will be celebrating both Juneteenth and Father’s Day with a slate of back-to-back family-friendly events. At 11am on Sunday, the Good Company Bike Club, founded to encourage cycling among the Black community, will host a “freedom ride” that meets at the museum’s plaza. Various art-making, reading, and scavenger hunting activities will follow for kids, along with sound baths, guided meditations, musical performances in the sculpture garden, and dancing.
When: June 19, 11am–7pm
Where: Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Pkwy, Brooklyn; the day’s schedule can be found here