In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln officially signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing enslaved Africans and African Americans in states rebelling against the Union. But it wouldn’t be until more than two years later, on June 19, 1865, that news of the Civil War’s end reached the enslaved peoples of Galveston, Texas, by way of Union soldiers.
Not only does this year mark the 154th anniversary of that announcement, but it is the 400th anniversary of the first recorded slave ship to arrive on North American shores. Philadelphians are commemorating these two events across the city. Here are nine ways to discover and honor black Americans’ resilience and long fight for freedom over the next week.
This marks the fourth year of the rapidly expanding Parade and MusicFest, started by the Pennsylvania Juneteenth Initiative. The celebration begins with the televised parade at noon, with more than 1,800 expected participants. Now on a new route, the parade, which includes local and national groups, leaders, and celebrities starts at 52nd and Jefferson Streets and ends at Malcolm X Park (51st and Pine Street). Beginning at 1 p.m., attendees can see and hear live music, dancing, and spoken word, along with enjoying various eats from food vendors in the park. This year’s event will also include a special ceremony renaming 52nd Street as Muhammad Ali Way.
Noon to 7 p.m., Saturday, June 22, 52nd and Jefferson Streets, free, 267-225-3108, juneteenthphilly.org
Roots-associated rapper Karl “Dice Raw” Jenkins is the writer and producer of this one-night-only re-enactment exploring a civil rights leader’s impact and a singer’s tribute to his work. A collaborative production between New Freedom Theatre and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, The King of Love follows the life and work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., jumping between his last speech and Nina Simone’s musical tribute to him, which she first performed only three days after his assassination. The event is part of Freedom Theater’s first Juneteenth Festival, which also includes a screening of the award-winning film Isaac Pope on June 23.
7 p.m., Wednesday, June 19, 128 N. Broad St., $30, 888-802-8998, freedomtheatre.org
For the first time, the Grounded Theatre Company will perform a site-specific performance of The Slave Narratives, commissioned by the Johnson House and the Concord School House and Upper Burying Ground. Directed by Shavon Smith, this series of selected and adapted dramatic monologues is based on accounts collected during the 1930s from formerly enslaved people in 17 states. Join six costumed performers as they carry you through the beginnings and endings of slavery, and memories of formerly enslaved people, in this open-air performance that starts at the Johnson House and ends at the Concord School House.
1 and 3 p.m. Saturday, June 15, 6306 Germantown Ave., free, 215-438-1768, eventbrite.com
Learn about the African Americans who helped make emancipation possible while enjoying music and dance performances during the African American Museum’s daylong Juneteenth celebration. A small group of local re-enactors will bring the Third Regiment U.S. Colored Troops to life through an interactive narrative experience featuring music. For those who prefer their history a little more static, the museum will host a screening of Reconstruction: America After the Civil War. Visitors will also have the chance to go on guided tours of the galleries, listen and watch local drummer Muzikal Dunk, and create individualized versions of the official Juneteenth flag.
10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, June 19, 701 Arch St., free, 215-574-0380, aampmuseum.org
This Juneteenth celebration is geared for children with live performances, creative demonstrations, and a special parade. Start the day by exploring the shapes and patterns of quilts using giant tangrams before creating works of art inspired by quilt designs. Later you can see Soul Steps perform the African-American dance tradition of stepping, be part of a special cooking demonstration, and get cozy as you listen to a child-friendly reading of the Emancipation Proclamation. The day will culminate in a musical parade that celebrates freedom.
9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Saturday, June 22, 4231 Avenue of the Republic, $19 admission, 215-581-3181, pleasetouchmuseum.org
Back for its sixth year, Liberty to Go to See offers attendees an intimate look at the ways race, class, gender, and personal liberty influenced the daily lives and interactions between Philadelphia’s prominent Chew family and the enslaved and indentured people who worked for them. Written by students from Philadelphia Young Playwrights and based on research from the Chew Family Papers, this hour-long series of narrated dramatic re-enactments takes attendees through the Cliveden Main House before ending with a post-discussion show in the Carriage House.
Noon and 3 p.m. Saturday, June 15, 6401 Germantown Ave., $15, 215-848-1777, cliveden.org
For its 13th year, the Johnson House Historic Site is spearheading an extensive daylong experience full of learning, appreciation, and celebration. Following the Libation Ceremony kick-off event at noon and a message from Mayor Jim Kenney, a number of poets, African and hip-hop dancers, and blues, gospel, and urban pop musicians will offer shows throughout the day. Hear a local historian discuss his research on the history of Mennonites and the Underground Railroad, listen to a panel of experts and formerly incarcerated women and girls discuss the impact and implications of the U.S. prison system, and attend an exhibit on King and the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign. Food vendors will be onsite, while the beer garden, featuring a selection from Attic Brewing Co. and Young American Hard Cider, opens at noon.
10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, June 15, 6300 block of Germantown Avenue, various prices, 215-438-1768, johnsonhouse.org
This second annual Juneteenth commemoration has a particular focus on the importance and impact of the Underground Railroad in the fight for African American freedom. See a presentation by Cheryl Gooch, author of Hinsonville Heroes and On Africa’s Lands, or attend a the Kennett Underground Railroad Pop Up Museum, where you can participate in an “Ask an Expert” chat with historian Chris Densmore. Other activities include a movie and book display at Kennett Library, an hour-long production of Always Free! A Juneteenth Celebration by Oni Lasana, and a performance by the 17th poets laureate of the State of Delaware, identical twins Al Mills and Nnamdi Chukwuocha.
11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, June 15, 300 block of East Linden Street, Kennett Square, free, 610-444-8188, historickennettsquare.com
Back for another year, this two-hour Juneteenth event features a choral performance by the Belmont Charter School Choir and a taped message from the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, among other activities. Watch Robert Kenyatta’s African drumming demonstration or listen to his stories about Henry Box Brown, an enslaved man who mailed himself to freedom. Later, hear American Book Award winner Lamont B. Steptoe read from a collection of poems and engage Kathleen Coll, executive director of Dawn’s Place, on the connections between America’s past and present-day slavery, including sex trafficking.