A celebration of Juneteenth National Freedom Day has been organized by Independence National Historical Park, culminating in a ceremony honoring African ancestors at Washington Square Park from noon to at least 2 p.m. Friday.
Washington Square, one of the original city squares, became a potter's field in 1706 and also served as a burial ground for Philadelphia's free and enslaved Africans. Juneteenth, which celebrates the end of slavery, harks back to June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, with the news that war had ended and the enslaved were free.
The June 13th commemoration, a collaboration between the park and the Pennsylvania Juneteenth Coalition, celebrates Juneteenth National Freedom Day, recognized by the Pennsylvania Legislature as the oldest African American holiday observance in the United States. The observance begins at 10 a.m. with tours organized by the Juneteenth coalition.
Starting at Penn's Landing, the tours will proceed to Dock Street, where small boats sailed up the creek to bring goods into Philadelphia; Christ Church, where Africans were baptized and married; Franklin Court, site of Benjamin Franklin's home; Carpenters Hall, where the First Continental Congress met in 1774, and Independence Hall. The tours will end at Washington Square.
Visitors to the square will witness a drum, dance, and spoken word re-enactment of a 1783 African ceremony, a tribute to African ancestors buried at Washington Square and to the millions in unmarked graves that exist throughout the United States, a park spokeswoman said.