Black communities have been gathering to celebrate this freedom holiday for decades.
Before 2020, not many people knew about Juneteenth. Despite the deep roots of Black culture in America, this celebration of Black freedom went ignored for decades too long. From Charleston to Tulsa, since being brought to this country in chains, Black folks have always found solace in coming together. Whether it’s weekly fish fries or annual family reunions at the park, many Black families regularly gather to celebrate the right to be free.
Each Juneenteenth Black people in cities across the country join in dancing, playing, eating, and honor their ancestors–regardless of how far away freedom may still seem. These 10 cities have some of the best Juneteenth celebrations.
Top Picks for You
In the 1920s, many Black folks called Richmond’s downtown district, Jackson Ward, home. Music was at the core of this thriving epicenter of Black culture. Legendary jazz musicians and performers like Ella Fitzgerald and Richmond’s own, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, regularly sold-out shows at the city’s Hippodrome Theater, and Black businesses were flourishing, too. But in the 1950s, city officials built a highway right through the heart of Jackson Ward.
Despite its history, the Black RVA community continues to be a hub for Black culture today, making it the perfect place to celebrate Juneteenth. Check out “A Freedom of Celebration” on June 27th for performances, healing cyphers, and ancestral homage.
We can’t talk about Juneteenth without talking about the Texan roots of the holiday. When enslaved folks in Galveston, Texas, finally got word about their freedom in 1865 (though they weren’t freed overnight) the jubilee began one year later. They danced, sang, barbequed, and prayed as Black communities often still do.
By 1872, Houston’s Black community raised $1,000 and purchased ten acres of land to host the annual celebration. A recently-renovated Emancipation Park is still one the best places to be Black and (virtually) carefree this Juneteenth. To experience the energy of Juneteenth in person, head to Gavelston’s Juneteenth parade and picnic.
For the past 50 years, Milwaukee has been celebrating Juneteenth with an annual parade and other festivities–one of the first northern cities to do so. Despite taking a year off in 2020, Milwaukee’s Juneteenth Day Festival is the longest-running cultural festival in the city.
And since its inception, Milwaukee’s festival has always been a big block party of Blackness. Think barbeque, soul music, a Miss Juneteenth Pageant, and Black folks exuding their freedom all along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.
New York City
In New York City, The Juneteenth NY organization has been empowering, educating, and entertaining the community every year since 2009. There’s always a full line-up at this liberation celebration, including live performances, a parade, Black-owned vendors, and education and wellness activations. To help shift the narrative on various challenges within the Black community, NYC’s Juneteenth event always honors a theme–this year’s theme is “Rebirthing the Roots of Entrepreneurial Excellence.”
Often overlooked for its cultural impact, Baltimore is a storied city full of Black history. Legends like Billie Holiday and Eubie Blake once called the harborside city home. Today, it continues to be a cauldron of Black art and liberation.
The oldest continuously operating Black community theater in the country, Arena Players, is a great place to celebrate Black freedom in Baltimore this Juneteenth. In partnership with the city’s newly-revived Black Arts District, the theater will host a screening of Baltimore-based Netflix film, Dark City Beneath the Beat. Just 45 minutes outside of town, the state’s capital, Annapolis, will host a Juneteenth parade and festival.
In May, Tulsa recognized the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, where a thriving Black Wall Street once stood. Before being burned to the ground in 1921 by racist vigilantes, Tulsa’s Greenwood district was brimming with prosperity. Black folks rarely had to leave the community because everything they needed they built, from barbershops to pharmacies.
Today, organizations and projects like Greenwood Rising are dedicated to telling the stories of Tulsa’s Black ancestors who built something remarkable. As one of the most anticipated cities for travel in 2021, celebrating Juneteenth in Tulsa is the perfect way to pay homage to Black history.
Atlanta , Georgia
Long considered a mecca of Black culture, Atlanta’s Juneteenth parade and festival is a beautiful celebration of Black history. The southern city has always been an essential part of Black American liberation–from emancipation to the Civil Rights Movement. Bringing a unique twist to the Juneteenth jubilee, Atlanta’s celebration features a double dutch competition, an artists’ market, and a 5k Freedom Run.
Charleston, South Carolina
By 1808, nearly 100,000 enslaved West Africans were transported through the ports of Charleston, South Carolina, before being sold into bondage. Black roots in Charleston run deep. Despite the constant erasure of Black South Carolinian communities like the Gullah Geechee, Black folks deserve to celebrate their richness in a city built entirely by their ancestors. Head to Charleston’s Riverfront Park on June 19th art, live music, traditional foods, and fireworks.
Not many people know that a formerly enslaved Black man named Robert Church saved Memphis, making Beale Street the entertainment hub it remains today. Beale Street was established in 1841. But by the 1870s, the city had been severely affected by the Civil War and yellow fever.
As Memphis’ population was dwindling, the city faced losing its charter, but Robert Church saw an opportunity for his people to thrive. So he acquired land, opened a park, and brought a slew of Black businesses to Beale Street. Black restaurants, clubs, and shops thrived while Ida. B Wells headquartered her famous anti-lynching newspaper there, too. Memphis eventually became a critical place in the struggle for Black liberation during the Civil Rights Movement. Memphis is a sacred ground of Black freedom and one of the best places to celebrate Juneteenth this year.
Philadelphia has long been a beacon of Black joy. During the Great Migration, southern Black folks poured into the liberty city at the promise of jobs and prosperity. Today, Philly remains one of the Blackest cities in America, making it a unique place to honor the fight for freedom. Juneteenth Philly will celebrate with a parade, festival, and an ongoing initiative to support Philadelphia’s Black-owned businesses.