Freedom may have never felt more real than when enslaved folks in Galveston, Texas, found out they were free nearly two years after the rest of the country. From targeted mass shootings to years of police brutality, liberation for Black people still seems so far away. But one of the things Black folks have always done is find ways to conjure up joy, celebrate our culture, and honor those who carved the paths before us.
Juneteenth is a celebration that embraces these principles, and from coast to coast, Black communities have been gathering for decades in celebration of this freedom day. In honor of the newest federal holiday, these nine U.S. cities are home to some of the most unique Juneteenth events for 2023.
Like much of the South, Charleston, South Carolina, is steeped in Black history. Enslavers brought an estimated 40% of Africans through the city’s ports, so many of us have unknown Charleston ties. Luckily, the Gullah people of South Carolina and other states like Georgia have kept African American culture intact for centuries, and there’s no better time to celebrate than Juneteenth.
Many are celebrating June-long with The Charleston Place, a boutique hotel in the heart of the city’s historic district, hosting several Juneteenth programs. Every evening The Plantation Singers can be found singing beautiful renditions of African American classics like “Swing Low” in between the lobby’s grand staircase.
On June 22, Gullah Chef Charlotte Jenkins will share culinary tales followed by a tasting. For seafood lovers looking for a bit of adventure, try Casual Crabbing With Tia Clark, a Charleston native. She fell in love with crabbing five years ago and today teaches a genuinely unique, hands-on experience in the art of crabbing that’s worth casting a net.
The capital city, once considered a Black mecca lovingly called “Chocolate City,” has been celebrating Juneteenth since the early 2000s, and this year, D.C. is one of the best places to be for a holiday. Virginia native Pharrell Williams’ Something In The Water Festival is happening all weekend, June 17-19, and will feature some of the biggest artists in Black music across the diaspora. It’s one of the best Black festivals in the world, and you definitely don’t want to miss it.
And in an art-filled city like D.C., it won’t be hard to find programs highlighting African American culture this Juneteenth 2023. At Arena Stage, Drumfolk is an immersive production featuring dance with contemporary art inspired by two crucial points in Black history, the Stono Rebellion of 1739 and the Negro Act of 1740 in South Carolina. Exploring Black art in D.C. isn’t complete without visiting the National Museum of African American History And Culture (NMAAHC).
This year, the museum is celebrating with music, a display featuring Martin Luther King Jr’s 1963 March On Washington speech, and special plates at their Sweet Home Cafe. African American classics like BBQ ribs, okra, red beans and rice, and a Juneteenth-must, red velvet cake will be on the menu.
Located across the Potomac River from D.C, Alexandria, Virginia, offers many ways to celebrate African American culture this Juneteenth. Carlyle House Historic Park, an 18th-century museum in the Old Town, will host poetry readings coupled with live music and art on the holiday. On June 18th, head to the Black History Museum’s garden for children’s storytelling about local history through books, stories, and songs.
Booking a spot on a Manumission Tour is a must-do. Their routes tell the history of enslaved Alexandrians, their stories of freedom, and tours of the historically Black Duke Street. Don’t forget to eat your way through Black-owned Alexandria at local spots like Haute Dogs and Fries or Hen Quarter.
A bit deeper into Virginia, Richmond is another great city to consider for Juneteenth celebrations. Year-round, Black RVA is a hub for experiencing the culture in Richmond. This year there’s a Block Party Festival with spoken word, food, and live music on the 19th. Because Juneteenth falls on Father’s Day this year, a local NAACP branch celebrates Black fatherhood with more food, performances, and wine tastings. Later this month, on June 26th, the Elegba Folklore Society will host their annual freedom market and pay ancestral homage with a visit to Richmond’s African Burial Grounds.
For food lovers looking to honor Black culture through their palettes, Black-owned restaurants like Lillie Pearl and BRUN are delicious places to be. At Richmond’s beloved Lillie Pearl, African American and West African foodways blend into offerings like braised beef short ribs with jollof rice. At BRUN, premium whiskeys and cigars are available, which have deep roots in Black culture.
Opal Lee is considered the “Grandmother of Juneteenth,” and we can’t discuss the holiday without mentioning her activism. Lee, a Texas native, spent her childhood picnicking with her family every Juneteenth. As with many Black folks, she celebrated the holiday long before the federal government recognized it—which might not have happened without her.
In 2016, at 89, Opal Lee walked from her home in Fort Worth, Texas, to Washington, D.C., on a mission to get Juneteenth named a national holiday. This year on June 18th, Lee will lead the city’s annual ‘Opal’s Walk For Freedom’ with a portion of the walk’s proceeds going towards a forthcoming National Juneteenth Museum set to open in 2024. The best part? If you’re not in Fort Worth, you can join Opal’s Walk virtually.
For live music lovers, head to the ‘ I Am Juneteenth Festival’ hosted along the Trinity River with food vendors and family activities. And for sports fans, the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo honors a legendary cowboy and the beautiful legacy of Black cowboys and cowgirls. Have a few extra days to hang? Meet up with Black travel group Urban Events Global in Kilgore Texas for Urban Camp Weekend: the largest Black campout in the world.
The Midwest has long been a beacon of Black music, from the invention of house music to the start of Motown. AFROPUNK, a traveling music festival, is happening in Minneapolis this Juneteenth. On the line-up are signature panel discussions called “Solution Sessions,” opps to meet with your fave Black travel bloggers, and live music featuring performances from artists like Ari Lennox, Sango, and Noname.
At the Capri Theater, Juneteenth Jubilee— a Black burlesque show—will celebrate the history of Black and brown bodies in burlesque. On June 18th, there will be a Juneteenth parade at Bethune Park, followed by an after-party with food trucks, live entertainment, and vendors. Honor the life of Minneapolis native George Floyd at George Floyd Square on the 19th with a free block party featuring a DJ, vendors, and live performances.
There’d be no Juneteenth without the Black folks in Galveston who decided to jubilee after finding out they were no longer enslaved two years after the rest of the country. Today, Galveston Island is still beaming with Black culture. This Juneteenth weekend, travelers can join the Freedom Walks tracing the paths of emancipation on Galveston. There’s also a festival featuring a Black art walk exhibition, live music, and a youth basketball tournament on the 18th—a parade and picnic at Wright Cuney Park to commemorate Juneteenth on the day.
For a deep dive into the history of Gavelston’s Black community, head to the Nia Cultural Center to experience art, see local artwork, and connect with people who truly know the history of Black Gavelston. Don’t leave town without eating at a Gavelston institution: Leon’s World Famous BBQ. Black history and barbeque go hand-in-hand, and Leon’s has been serving some of the Island’s best-smoked beef brisket sandwiches, pork ribs, and sweet potato pies for twenty-five years.
Houston’s proximity to Gavelston means they’ve been celebrating Juneteenth almost as long as the island has. In 1872, Black folks in the city raised one thousand dollars, purchased ten acres of land, and began celebrating the holiday annually. Much like today, they sang, danced, and barbecued on Juneteenth.
Today, Emancipation Park will celebrate for the 150th time, and legendary Black artists like The Isley Brothers, Kool & The Gang, and a Black family reunion favorite, Frankie Beverly and Maze, will be taking the stage. Local vendors and community panels regarding healthcare disparities and economic empowerment will also be happening. One of the best parts of the Emancipation Park event is that $150,000 worth of grants will be awarded to local organizations. If you’re in town for the full weekend, don’t forget to attend Houston’s Juneteenth parade that kicks off from Acres Homes Multi-Service Center on June 18th.
Long a Black mecca, similarly to D.C., Baltimore is a unique place to celebrate the Juneteenth holiday. The city’s annual Black arts and music festival, AAFRAM, happens this Juneteenth weekend at Druid Hill Park, featuring artists like Neyo and The O’jays. The festival also hosts AAFRAM restaurant week, featuring some of Baltimore’s best Black-owned restaurants. Places like vegan soul food spot, The Land of Kush, and Fishnet, a local fish house serving Baltimore classics like lake trout, will provide food specials.
Baltimore’s historic Pennsylvania Ave Black Arts District is presenting numerous events Juneteenth 2023 weekend, including a Juneteenth Festival at locally-loved Dovecote Cafe and a Freedom Day Celebration perfect for families that will be held on the holiday.