The legacy of Black Americans is often overlooked by the country at large, which is why July 4th — otherwise known as Independence Day — does not mark “our” freedom.
So every year we celebrate our own Independence Day, known as “Juneteenth,” to commemorate the day Union Officer General Gordon Granger issued an order to slave masters in Galveston, Texas to free enslaved Africans. Juneteenth marks the day in Texas in 1865 when 250,000 enslaved people were liberated, letting freedom finally ring. It became a motivating and stabilizing commemoration for Black Texans (and Black Americans everywhere) experiencing uncertainties associated with their newfound freedom and full integration into American society.
The significance of Juneteenth is relevant now more than ever, because our “freedom” is represented in our influence on many communities across the nation — from architecture, music, art and food. Today, 46 states and the District of Columbia officially recognize and commemorate Juneteenth, though celebrations this year will look a lot different.Despite our new normal, take some time to celebrate joy amidst the storm. From iconic Black history museums to historic monuments to delicious soul food, here are a few places you can celebrate Juneteenth and learn about Black heritage in the U.S.
With the 4th largest population of Black Americans and its home state being where Juneteenth originated, Houston may just be the perfect place to celebrate. Their Buffalo Soldiers National Museum will be reopening to the public with a grand celebration on Juneteenth! The opening events will be on both June 19th and 20th and there will be a variety of fun programs for the whole family to participate in. The city is also known for its variety of amazing street art, which now includes two new murals honoring George Floyd and his connection to the city. Both created by local graffiti artists, one lives on the side of local Black-owned restaurant the breakfast klub and the other is created by well-known graffiti artist DonkeeMom. While in Houston, be sure to stop by Freedman’s Town, a once bustling area where former enslaved people from surrounding plantations built their own community after the civil war. At one time the area helped approximately a third of Houston’s 36,000 African Americans. The still standing original row houses are slowly disappearing in the face of modern construction making this a place to visit sooner rather than later.
As the nation’s capital, Black history is an essential part of DC's identity, which means that there are numerous ways to celebrate and honor Juneteenth — even in Phase I of the city’s reopening plan.The National Museum of African American History and Culture opened in 2016 and is the only museum in the country solely dedicated to African American life, history, and culture. If you’re unable to visit in person, the museum offers digital archives and online resources for exploring Black history, even if you can physically step through its doors on your visit. A walking tour to other popular monuments tells the stories of our fight for justice, including Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, the African American Civil War Memorial, Ben's Chili Bowl, the Capitol Building, Lincoln Memorial and now even Black Lives Matter Plaza.
It’s only right to go where it all began. Journey through African American culture and heritage in Galveston by following in the footsteps of many Black folks before us with tour stops that include the historic Black cemetery where one of the founders of the Deltas is buried, Texas’s first AME Church — Reedy Chapel AME Church, the site at Ashton Villa where the Emancipation Proclamation was read on June 19th 1865, leading to over 100 years of Juneteenth celebrations.
Maryland plays a significant role in America's struggle for equality — past and present. From the hidden locales along The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, to the site of Frederick Douglass' escape at Baltimore's President Street Station, the city has long been in the history books for its contributions to Black history. Now, Baltimore’s Dovecote Café
is a cultural hub in the predominantly Black neighborhood, Reservoir Hill. The Black-owned business centers its community in everything from Black art to music to a variety of events including their beloved Juneteenth Festival. Due to COVID-19 the café has been temporarily closed so Aisha and Cole decided to take one aspect of the festival, the Art Bazaar, virtual! On June 20th, they’ll be featuring art from black artists on their Instagram page
for viewers to purchase. They’ll also be releasing a “freedom” playlist featuring a variety of black artists, and their favorite cookout recipes perfect for any Juneteenth celebration.
Beaufort, South Carolina
As the second oldest city in South Carolina (founded in 1711), Beaufort is home to one of the most important eras of American history: The Reconstruction Era. In 2017, Beaufort was proclaimed the home of the Reconstruction Era National Monument by President Obama (in fact, it was one of his final acts in office)! The monument includes four major sites: Darrah Hall on the campus of Penn Center, Brick Baptist Church, Camp Saxton and the Emancipation Oak on the site of the current Naval Hospital Beaufort in Port Royal and a former Beaufort firehouse. If you want to explore more, head north for a different kind of Black-owned BBQ, to A Peace of Soul Vegan Kitchen, one of the first vegan restaurants in Columbia, SC. It’s a must-visit! Their inventive vegan riffs on traditional Southern meals are just as good (if not better!) than the traditional versions and feature gluten-free, soy-free and raw vegan options as well. For more than 15 years, Rock Hill, SC has also been commemorating Juneteenth with a festival highlighting the best local talent the state has to offer. Rather than let COVID-19 ruin the festivities, they’ve taken the event online with a great line-up of poetry, dance and more including their Poet Laureate Angelo Jeter.
As a predominantly Black city rooted in a history of leading social justice, Memphis celebrates blackness in unique and creative ways not just during Juneteenth, but all year long. Take a walking tour of African American History in Memphis and trace history from the early days of cotton to the Civil Rights movement. Stop by Beale Street Baptist Church, the National Civil Rights Museum, Historic Court Square, Fourth Bluff Park, overlooking the Mississippi River, Deadman's Alley and Cotton Row. After a few hours soaking up history, switch gears and take in the CLTV (Collective) — a non-profit that offers space and voice to Black visual and performing artists, while also tackling broader issues such as housing insecurity by providing artists a place to live and thrive, and Hattiloo Theatre is one of only four freestanding Black theatres in America.