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Celebrating Juneteenth

By Wendy Swanson

Washington, D.C.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

2022 marks only the second year that Juneteenth, celebrated in many areas across the country for years, has been a national holiday. Last year Congress voted to add the day to the list of our official national celebrations. Then, on June 17, 2021, President Biden made it official, signing the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act.

The holiday – also known by such names as Jubilee Day, Freedom Day and Emancipation Day – commemorates the day, June 19, 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger announced to the people of Texas via General Order No. 3 that “all slaves are free.” Slavery had continued in Texas after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued and even after the end of the Civil War. One reason for this: slave owners from further east had traveled to Texas to escape Union troops. Accordingly, federal troops were sent to establish authority in Texas and, thus, the need for Granger’s announcement. Louis Henry Gates sees Juneteenth as an appropriate day to celebrate the end of slavery as this was the occasion when “freedom touched the last place in the South.”

Throughout our area, many Juneteenth celebrations are planned, both large and small. Juneteenth, June 19, is a Sunday this year so the federal holiday will be on Monday, June 20. The result is an entire of weekend of Juneteenth events; something for everyone – from the display of documents of freedom to the opening of a new museum to encounters with historic interpreters. And don't forget the traditional festivity regulars: parades, music, storytelling and food. Here is just a sampling of what’s available. No events near you? Search for "Juneteenth" online and you're likely to find something nearby. And if you are not inclined to attend such a celebration, do take a moment to contemplate the meaning of the day.

In Washington, DC:

At the National Archives: The Archives has in its holdings the two documents most closely related to Juneteenth celebrations: the Emancipation Proclamation and General Order No. 3. Both original documents will be on display at the Archives from June 18 to 20. The museum will be open for the special extended hours of 10 a.m.–7 p.m. the weekend of June 18 - 20. Admission is free.

The African-American Civil War Museum will hold a wreath-laying ceremony at its “Spirit of Freedom” statue, shown here; to be followed by a living history program. The memorial honors thousands of African American servicemen from the Civil War; a reading of names will take place. (An entrance to the U Street metro stop enters onto the memorial plaza.) The event is Monday, June 20.

In Virginia:

Alexandria has several events planned, happenings that will occur throughout the weekend.

Sunday, the Jubilee Voices will perform spirituals and folks songs and tell stories of freedom and the Underground Railroad in the city’s Market Square.

Another celebration on Sunday will take place in the gardens, on the grounds and the tented terrace of the Carlyle House (121 N. Fairfax). Here enjoy live music, hands-on activities, art, and history. The Athenaeum will host four poets, who will give readings.These include Alexandria’s new poet laureate (Zeina Azzam) and Baltimore’s 2020-2021 youth poet laureate (Destinae). There also will be a creative writing workshop given by Enoch the Poet, from noon to 4 p.m.

Monday marks the ground opening of a new museum, the Freedom House Museum on Duke Street, shown on the left. This National Historic Site was once the headquarters of the nation’s largest slave traders and later served as a Confederate prison. The building now houses three floors of exhibits on Black history in Virginia and American. The museum will be open from 1-5:30 p.m., with an opening ceremony at the nearby Shiloh Baptist Worship Center at 6 p.m. That ceremony will be livestreamed for those who cannot be there in person. (There is a museum entry charge for those not living in Alexandria.)

Alexandria’s City Hall will be illuminated in honor of Juneteenth through June 20.

Vienna utilizes Juneteenth as the beginning of its month-long celebration of the “liberty amendments,” those being the 13th, 14, 15th and 19th. The 13th amendment, abolishing slavery, will be commemorated with activities running from Saturday through June 25. The week will be jammed packed with events (exhibits, self-guided walking tours, musical groups, talks, a car show) before it ends on Saturday with a festival on the town green.

In Maryland:

The Juneteenth parade in Annapolis on Saturday promises to be even bigger than last year – and that event had over 2,000 participants. After starting at the City Dock, the parade will pass the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Memorial before ending at the Bates Athletic Complex on Spa Road. A festival follows at 2 p.m. (lasting until 9 p.m.), one featuring two entertainment stages – one for rhythm and blues, the other for gospel. Fireworks will end the day. There is parking (for a fee) at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium with free shuttles to the festival.

The African American Historical Association of Western Maryland will sponsor a Juneteenth event on Sunday at the Historic Rockland Estate in Fairplay from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Maryland. Nathan Richardson will appear as Frederick Douglass (members will remember him from the teach-in at the Emancipation Statue in DC. The photo on the right shows him with John O'Brien at that event) and a “reenactors tent” will include other historic interpreters including Harriet Tubman, John Brown and Martin Delanay. Music, storytelling, an author’s showcase and vendors are also on the agenda. Fee charged.

Cheverly will be celebrating from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday, first with a parade, to be followed by more activities at the Cheverly Town Hall. The Buffalo Soldiers Organization will conduct the Juneteenth flag raising ceremony and the subsequent festivities will include good food and good speakers and, of course, more! What with Juneteenth occurring on Father’s Day this year, the national theme recognizes the “Founding Fathers of Freedom, the United States Colored Troops who proudly marched into Galveston announcing freedom to those still held enslaved.”

(Photo credits: Spirit of Freedom statue:; Freedom House Museum; photo of John O'Brien and Nathan Richardson as Frederick Douglass, courtesy of John O'Brien)

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