June 19, 1865 began as another average day in South Texas, at a time during which chattel slavery was very much alive. However, the day ended quite differently as Union troops finally arrived to Galveston Bay in Texas with one pivotal message: the Union had won the Civil War and henceforth all enslaved people were to be free. Though these soldiers arrived with this news a full two years after the Emancipation Proclamation freed enslaved peoples, the actual end of slavery was not uniformly enforceable in all states across the Union. Upon this news reaching the small community located in Galveston Bay, Texas, formerly enslaved people broke out into joyous celebration. This festive occasion, recalled by the Black community to this day as ‘Juneteenth,’ traveled with the descendants of the first celebrants across the United States, and remains the longest celebrated end to slavery in the United States.
Juneteenth finally gained status as a federal holiday in June 2021, over 150 years after it originated. In 2022, the holiday will be celebrated for the second time as a federal holiday. In President Biden’s proclamation of the holiday, he acknowledges the holiday’s importance in a national reckoning with America’s legacy of racial inhumanity. A day marked for celebrating Black joy and resilience in the United States, and a reminder for US citizens to continue to join forces to pursue racial equality and justice, Juneteenth is commemorated across the New York City area. Here we have assembled ten exciting free events across the city to commemorate and celebrate Juneteenth.
1. Screening of “Summer of Soul (…or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” Screening (Marcus Garvey Park) – June 17th from 7:00-10:00 pm
On June 17th from 7-10pm at Marcus Garvey Park there will be a free screening of the film, “Summer of Soul (…or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised” directed by Ahmir Johnson, better known as Questlove in the hip hop group The Roots. This Oscar winning documentary reveals footage presumed lost from the the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, dubbed “Black Woodstock.” Featured were a range of performers including Nina Simone, Mahalia Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone, The Fifth Dimension, and many more. The film was awarded an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 2022.
The festival took place soon after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. as an expression of Black solidarity and in homage to the resilience and enduring power of Black culture. This Harlem cultural festival gave space for Black cultural expression; however, the film suggests that the concert series was only allowed to occur by New York City officials in order to prevent riots on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. The documentary contains fragments from 40 hours of previously unseen footage captured at the concerts, speaking to the excitement and energy present for this monumental cultural event. The screening will take place in the very same park where the festival occurred.
2. 13th Annual Juneteenth NY Festival Three Day Celebration (Linden Park, Brooklyn)- June 17-19th 9am-6pm
Kicking off on June 17th, Juneteenth NY is honoring the holiday with a live and in-person three-day celebration. The Juneteenth NY festival was first held in 2009 and will celebrate its 13th year this year. Each year, the festival centers around Black history and changing harmful narratives. This Juneteenth NY festival’s theme is “Unity in the Black Family Unit.” On Friday June 17th, the event will take place virtually, featuring conversations with NY State of Health, Sun River Health, and more.
The in-person portion, beginning on June 18th, will include a food market featuring local Black-owned restaurants, live performances, and a children’s basketball clinic hosted by the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Liberty. On Sunday, the festival will wrap up with a fashion show presenting up and coming Black designers and a musical performance by R&B singer and founder of Zhane, Renée Neufville. Attendees at the festival are encouraged to design a quilt block in honor of loved ones lost to COVID-19 for Libation & Liberation: The Quilt Project. This multi-city project commemorates Black textile making and provides space to express grief. The event is free and reservations are required. The festival is expecting 25,000 attendees across the weekend’s events.
3. Juneteenth Food Festival (Weeksville Heritage Center) – June 18th at 12pm and June 19th at 7pm
On both Saturday June 18th and Sunday June 19th, the Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn will host 20 Black food vendors serving dishes from the African Diaspora, the Caribbean, Latin America, and parts of the United States. The festival will also offer a market of Black-owned goods and DJ and Soul performances. The Real Mothershuckers, the one and only oyster cart in Brooklyn inspired by the tradition of Black owned oyster cellars in the late 1800’s, will be among the vendors at the festival. The festival will take place at the Weeksville Heritage Center which emerged from one of the largest communities of African American Freedmen before the Civil War.
Weeksville was located in what is now Crown Heights in central Brooklyn. James Weeks, one of the original founders of the community, founded the town to create an economically and politically secluded space for Black Americans. This self-sufficiency fostered the ability for Black men to own land, and thus vote. Today, the Weeksville Heritage Center utilizes art, social justice, and education to engage with the history of Weeksville. The event is free and reservations are required.
4. Juneteenth Celebration June 18th 2pm-4pm (Lewis H. Latimer Museum, Queens)
The Lewis H. Latimer House Museum in Queens, named after the Black inventor and creative, will honor Juneteenth through a series of activities and workshops that draw inspiration from Latimer’s life as a poet and writer. The free event will include a workshop for poetry and portraiture led by Brooklyn-based creative consultant Quentin Felton.
Interdisciplinary artist Dario Mohr will also host a “Sow the Seeds” workshop. Participants will write to ancestors on seed-based paper that will be planted at the historic Old Stone House in a 2023 ceremony welcoming life from Africa, in the form of African Daisy seeds, to American military and athletic landmarks. You can register here.
5. The Flea Juneteenth Programming – June 19th, various times
The Flea — an experimental theater in Tribeca supporting Black, Brown, and Queer experimental art — is putting on a variety of public performances the week leading up to Juneteenth. On June 19th, award-winning director and performer Niegel Smith is organizing “The Worthy,” a “celebratory walk for justice and Black men,” which will begin at the African Burial Ground and end at The Flea theater. During the construction of a federal building at 290 Broadway, archeologists found a burial ground containing more than 15,000 skeletal remains of enslaved Africans dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries. Now, a memorial complex exists on these grounds. The intention behind Niegel Smith’s walk is to uplift “our souls” as participants walk from a site of an American tragedy to a theater that supports the vitality of Black, Brown, and Queer performing artists. “The Worthy” will occur on June 19th at 11am, 1pm, and 3:30pm.
In addition to “The Worthy,” on June 19th the Flea will also produce “ISSUE MAN… JUNETEENTH,” presented by speaker, writer, teacher, and creative James Scruggs from 12pm-4pm. Additionally, at 1:10 pm on the 19th, scholar and artist Ebony Noelle Golden will be overseeing “The Blueing: Ceremonies from the Name of the Mother Tree.” Participants can expect “a collective ritual for water veneration” and are encouraged to bring water and a vessel. Finally, at 3pm at Roger and Tilden Community Garden, The Flea is offering “Time’s Up: A Liberation Ritual,” a participatory dance with the intention of honoring important liberation figures and activating “the spirit of NOW” by Chanon Judson. This event is in collaboration with the Haitian Cultural Exchange. More information on these activities is accessible at The Flea’s website. Tickets are free and must be reserved.
6. Celebrate Juneteenth in Seneca Village (Seneca Village, Central Park)- June 19th 10am-2pm
Before Central Park was created in 1858, Seneca Village (between West 82nd and West 89th Street) was home to a predominantly African-American community. Soon before Central Park came to fruition, the village was complete with a school for African-American students, churches, homes, and even burial grounds. Residents were able to own property which meant that some could vote, per restrictive property voting requirements at the time. This self-sufficient community was displaced by eminent domain in order to build Central Park, but its legacy will be celebrated on the grounds on which it existed this Juneteenth.
The public Juneteenth celebration at Seneca Village will feature musicians, storytellers, and other performance artists. Percussionist Abdou M’Boup from Senegal will welcome attendees with a performance on various percussion instruments. On the site where “Colored School #3” once stood, banjo player Ayodele Maakheru and Grammy award nominated spoken-word artist Gha’il Rhodes Benjamin will tell stories and play music. Where Seneca Village’s African Union Church once stood, poet Marilyn Nelson will read her poetry while interpretive dancers bring her words to life. To celebrate the life of Andrew Williams, who secured his right to vote through property ownership in Seneca Village, tap dancer DeWitt Flemming, Jr. will perform a commemorative dance. Other events will include sculpture, harp music, and spoken word poetry. No reservations are required. More information can be found here.
7. Honoring Juneteenth (Brooklyn Museum) June 19th 11am and 7pm
On June 19th from 11am and at 7pm, Brooklyn Museum will hold a free outdoor event including musical performances, food, mindfulness, and photography. The Good Company Bike Club, which seeks to unify the Black cyclists, will host its second annual Freedom Ride starting from the steps of the Brooklyn Museum. The ride will focus on locations important to the Black community and will include stops to Black owned restaurants for food and refreshments.
Food for the evening portion of the event will be provided by Black Chef Movement, which connects Black and Brown chefs with one another to provide meals for those in need. At sunset, there will be a meditation for Black lives. The practice of meditating for Black lives draws upon traditional meditation practices and creates an experience for processing trauma and oppression and honoring lives of Black and brown people. The event is free and does not require reservations. More information can be found here.
8. Free Outdoor Concert: Broadway Celebrates Juneteenth (Times Square)- June 19 12-1:30pm
On June 19th, the Black to Broadway Initiative will host a free concert event celebrating Black artists in Duffy Square in Times Square. The performances will feature Black performers from Broadway shows as part of a larger effort to increase access to and engagement with Broadway for Black people.
This year’s event will be the second running of the event. Last year’s celebration featured Tony Award winners and cast members from various Broadway shows. More information can be found here.
9. All American Freedom Day: Reimagining Togetherness (Carnegie Hall Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage) – June 19th at 7:00pm
On June 19th starting at 7pm, Carnegie Hall will be hosting “All American Freedom Day: Reimagining Togetherness,” a Juneteenth celebration featuring performing artists and speakers. Tony Award nominee David Allen Grier will be the Master of Ceremony and Lincoln Center’s first poet-in-residence, Mahogany Browne, will be a presenter.
Author Sonia Sanchez and Opal Lee, the oldest member of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, will be honored during the celebration. The New Jersey Youth Symphony, poet Naima Penniman, and Forces of Nature Dance Theatre will be among the performers appearing on stage. Tickets are free and will be available for pick up at Carnegie Hall Box Office starting on June 10th. More information can be found here.
10. I Dream a Dream That Dreams Back at Me: A Juneteenth Celebration (Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts)- June 19th 7:00pm
On June 19th at 7pm, Lincoln Center will host a celebration curated by poet, writer, playwright, actor, journalist, and dance collaborator Carl Hancock Rux. The performance culminates Rux’s three-part Juneteenth curation including an exhibit at Park Avenue Armory, a panel discussing the Emancipation Proclamation, and I Dream a Dream That Dreams Back at Me. The event is informed by the experiences of enslaved people and explores the achievability of freedom.
Musicians like Nona Hendryx, who is Jimmy Hendrix’s cousin and a Rhythm and Blues Foundation Hall of Fame Inductee, will perform original music. To end the event, Cedric Burnside, Grammy-winning blues guitarist, will take the stage. After the performances, participants can partake in a a Silent Disco Party to recognize the musical contributions of Black Americans. Advanced registration can be found here.
Next, discover these 33 Black History Sites to Discover in NYC.