The cultural importance of Juneteenth, and how to celebrate it in Philly
In the United States of America, slavery was a seemingly indissoluble component of the nation’s social, cultural, political, and economic makeup. Whether it was the electoral process, legislation, policing, agriculture, architecture, literature, art, music, and beyond, there is not a single aspect of American socio-political life that was not somehow touched and shaped by this brutal institution. It was because of the all-encompassing nature of slavery as an institution, emancipation, as it was ordered at the federal level in December of 1865, did not automatically bring freedom for everyone. In the wake of the legal abolition of Slavery, many white slaveowners outright refused to emancipate the enslaved. For this reason, many Black folks remained enslaved until well after the practice was legally outlawed.
In the summer after Congress ratified the bill that would legally abolish slavery, Union general Gordon Granger was charged with reading the federal order stating that all previously enslaved people in the state of Texas were now free. From that moment on, June 19th, the date that Granger made his address would be commemorated as the holiday known as Juneteenth, a celebration of the end of slavery in Texas.
In recent years, Juneteenth’s influence has grown outside of Texas, and celebrations associated with the holiday have popped up in cities around the country. Whether it’s the parades, cookouts, pageants, musical performances, and more, Juneteenth has come to signify the vibrance and resilience of Black American culture.
Last summer, Governor Tom Wolfe signed into law an act declaring June 19th “Juneteenth National Freedom Day” in Pennsylvania. In the press release announcing the act’s signing, Wolfe’s office explains that “While Independence Day marks the conception of a free nation, Juneteenth is a celebration of the fulfillment of this ideal through the Emancipation Proclamation,” said Gov. Wolf. “In honoring this day, I encourage all Pennsylvanians to reflect on the struggles and sacrifices our forefathers made to give us freedom while realizing the importance of continuing to build a nation that truly reflects the self-evident truth that all people are created equal.”
This week, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney also declared Juneteenth a city holiday, saying “Now more than ever, it’s critically important to acknowledge America’s original sin of slavery — something we as a nation have never atoned for. The only way to dismantle the institutional racism and inequalities that continue to disenfranchise Black Philadelphians is to look critically at how we got here, and make much-needed changes to the governmental systems that allow inequality to persist.”
For Juneteenth 2020, the city’s artistic community has organized a wealth of great events for this year’s Juneteenth celebration. From the community food give-away happening at 6024 Ogontz Avenue in the city’s West Oak Lane section to Spirit’s Up! a six-day series focusing on personal liberation and healing through yoga and meditation that culminates on June 19th coinciding with the Juneteenth celebrations scheduled at Malcolm X Park in West Philly.
WXPN will also schedule some special Juneteenth programming that includes a playback of Raphael Saadiq’s Free at Noon performance, two radio documentaries — The Gospel Roots Of Rock and Soul and Going Black: The Legacy Of Philly Soul Radio — and more.
Digitally, XPN is co-sponsoring Black Joy Matters: A Juneteenth Celebration of Black History and Music. The livestream via REC Philly will include a conversation with legendary Philadelphia broadcaster Dyana Williams, who alongside Kenny Gamble co-founded Black Music Month in 1979. (Williams and Gamble were both recently featured on the Questlove Supreme podcast.) The event also features performances by spoken word artist Visionary, cellist Aijee Cello, singer Noni Rose, rapper Blue w3rD, singer Seraiah Nicole, and DJ Osagie; RSVP here, and find more on XPN’s full Juneteenth programming here.
For folks who are still practicing social distancing, The African American Museum Philadelphia is hosting a virtual Juneteenth celebration, as is the historic Johnson House (an underground railroad safe house in Germantown). For music lovers, Warehouse on Watts will be debuting WOWTV, their new streaming platform, and hosting an all-day music lineup featuring Lil Dave, HVNLEE, Domino, Mellobastard and Kingspy as well as a special rooftop set from Jabair, Royale and Rebel Foster. Also, DJ Aura and DJ Taaj are hosting a virtual dance party streaming on Twitch that Aura promises will provide “a very necessary dose of Black joy as we honor the ancestors and freedom fighters.”
For more information, consult the #JuneteenthQunarantine guide from JuneteenthPhilly.org.