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Juneteenth across the Network


June 19, 2020 | Juneteenth across the Network | By: Abby Armato, Communications Coordinator, NMSC | 

Main Street communities across the nation are celebrating Juneteenth, the oldest national commemoration of the ending of slavery in America. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas, with news that the war that the enslaved were now free. (Note this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – which had become official January 1, 1863.) Often referred to as Jubilee Day, Freedom Day, and America’s Second Independence Day, this day has historically been celebrated with parades, barbecues, and baseball as well as education and self-improvement. This year, local leaders are organizing art installations, wade-ins, speeches, and more to highlight the importance of this day in American history.

In Alabama. Main Street America Community Member REV Birmingham has gathered up a list of key events happening around their community to share on social media and their website. Their itinerary includes a Juneteenth Celebration Picnic, a Juneteenth Pop Up in the 4th Avenue Business District—a center for Black-owned businesses—and a Women’s March. The day of events ends with a party and the grand opening of community favorite Simone’s Kitchen ATL’s new food truck. Learn more about these events here.

In Maine. Coinciding with the Heart of Biddeford’s Friday Art Walk, an art exhibition entitled The Slave Liberation Project will be a part of the downtown’s collection in observance of Juneteenth. This exhibition was created by Portland-based installation artist Hi Tiger, the lead and founding artist of the Maine Center for Electronic Music (MCEM), whose body of work, “extends from their experience of being a descendant of freed slaves.” The show features a collection called The Test. An article from MCEM explains this series to be, “large scale portraits on cardboard that refer to the ‘paper bag test’ from a time when you could be no darker than one to gain access or be considered beautiful. Interspersed throughout the portraits are miniature human cut-outs that represent the bodies once packed into slave ships, bodies that are here reimagined as free.” Read more about the installation here.

In Pennsylvania. Many Main Street programs are hosting celebrations in local parks and along commercial corridors. Downtown, Inc., in York, Pennsylvania, is one of those communities who are ready to celebrate Juneteenth with Black-owned businesses, music, food, and free activities. Learn more.

In Oklahoma. Oklahoma City’s 16th Street Plaza District is hosting an event of celebration and solidarity. Called “Solidarity in the Plaza District: Black Lives Matter,” Friday night in the District will feature Black makers, performers, and artists. Additional programming includes voter registration, notary station, and live music. Towards the end of the evening, a film screening of several films by BIPOC filmmakers will be shown that will, “invite viewers to critically listen, reflect and proceed in the movement for Black Lives in Oklahoma and beyond.” Learn more.

In Maryland. Though Juneteenth is recognized as a holiday to various degrees in most states, it is not yet a federal holiday. Many communities are working to change that on a local level. In Maryland, the Mayor of the City of Laurel signed a Proclamation proclaiming June 19, 2020, officially Juneteenth. In its official legal document, the Proclamation “[urges] all citizens to become more aware of the significance of this celebration in African American history and in the heritage of our nation and City.”

In Georgia. Tybee Island will be commemorating the day with their 5th Annual Juneteenth Wade-In. Attendees will gather at 9am at the beach. Guest speakers such as Savannah NAACP’s vice president and the co-founders of Savannah Center for Jubilee, Reconciliation & Healing will speak to the crowd, before walking with attendees into the water. “Really, America’s Independence Day became what we call the Fourth of July,” said organizer Julia Pearce in a recent interview. “But in 1776, thousands of Americans, African Americans, were still enslaved. Juneteenth is a celebration for all Americans.”

Please also check out this article by Dionne Baux, Director of UrbanMain, for suggestions of actions we all can take to ensure equity and inclusiveness within the broader field of community and economic development.