You could say the road to Juneteenth began in Philly — Cheltenham, to be precise. In 1862, the site of the current Cheltenham Mall became the site of Camp William Penn, the Civil War’s first military training facility for African American troops from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. Troops from Camp William Penn would go on to do many things: Become part of the 178,000 United States Colored Troops (U.S.C.T), which also included AAPI and Indigenous Americans. Battle racism within the military itself, including fighting for and winning equal pay, even if they didn’t win equal promotions.
These troops would die at much higher rates than their White counterparts. They’d also comprise the 22nd infantry, the soldiers who captured Abraham Lincoln’s assassins — and marched from previously seceded state to state to announce the end of slavery. Their last stop: Galveston, Texas, where, two-and-a-half months after the Civil War had ended, on June 19, 1865, their regiment of 2,000 bore the news to the very last enslaved African Americans. In other words, 2,000 men who fought for their own freedom got to deliver the good news to their people.
Juneteenth is Black Americans — and Black Philadelphians’ — independence day. It’s a reminder that we were not complicit in our capture. That everyday we rebelled with our survival. That we took arms for our independence, and we marched home to tell the story. It’s an indication to celebrate our culture, to commemorate our roots. To praise our strength, and creativity. It’s another reason for us to come together, to dance, to laugh and to be joyful.
In other words, 2,000 men who fought for their own freedom got to deliver the good news to their people.
This Juneteenth, Philadelphians can celebrate all over town, from Old City to Germantown, West Philly to Chestnut Hill. As for me? I’ll be celebrating in my neighborhood, Kingsessing (more on that below). To see my neighbors come together and create something that uplifts our culture, our spirit, and reminds us of where we come from, is so significant. Juneteenth also reminds us of who we are and all of the beautiful intersections of Blackness. To be Black and proud, Black and Queer, Black and outspoken, Black and reserved, to be Black and free — physically, mentally and spiritually.
“Juneteenth means freedom for so many people, for so many reasons. I try to get people to understand it’s not a Texas thing, is not a Black thing — it’s freedom for everybody. I’m hoping, eventually, we will celebrate from the 19th of June to the Fourth of July; that would be celebrating freedom.” — Ms. Opal Lee, the “Grandmother” of Juneteenth
Juneteenth: from Southwest to all over
In 2020, Khaleef “the Repairationist” Alexander and a group of his friends from high school and college decided they wanted to up their engagement with their Kingsessing community. Members of the group included teachers, event planners, and neighborhood advocates who’d worked on issues and causes within city government, including City Council. They named their group “Millennial Juneteenth” — a shoutout to both their own generation and that of their ancestors.
One goal of Millennial Juneteenth (MJ): Establish a holiday that the youngbouls of Southwest Philly will celebrate for generations to come. “A major point of the event is to just show ourselves that we can be around one another without anything bad happening — because for some reason people think that’s a myth,” says Alexander.
To that end, the group teamed up with Ronald Brown, aka Philadelphia’s “Mr. Juneteenth.” Widely credited with reviving the holiday in Philly, Brown has organized Juneteenth parades, picnics, and educational events. He also helped lead a decades-long effort to make Juneteenth a state — and national — holiday. These efforts first paid off in 2019, when Pennsylvania declared Juneteenth a state holiday.
The next year, after eight months of trying to get signatures for a petition from National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJOF) to make June 19 a federal holiday, Brown shared the petition with MJ, who did what millennials do: Put it on social media. Twenty-four hours later, the petition had over 15,000 signatures. A couple months later, those signatures grew to 1 million. And the rest, as they say, is history.
But MJ isn’t just about a one-day holiday. Since their founding, the group has organized protests, drawn up and circulated petitions for free HBCUs, hosted both food pantry drives and pop-up Covid testing. Alexander and his group firmly believe that the people in the City of Brotherly Love need to know their history and take pride in their power. Helping make Juneteenth a national holiday, he says, is proof of what grassroots Philly organizations can achieve.
COMMUNITY FESTIVALS AND PARADES:
Juneteenth Festival, Germantown
The Johnson House Historic Site kicks off the weekend and commemorates its 17th annual Juneteenth Festival on Saturday, June 17 from noon to 7pm. The Germantown event feels both special and neighbrohood-y. As this is a historic spot, there are historical reenactments and a serious panel discussion. But there’s also live music — African drumming and dancing — a children’s village, food trucks and loads of street vendors. Free. 6306 Germantown Avenue
Related: On June 17 from 2 to 3pm, across the street from the Johnson House, Mural Arts Philadelphia dedicates Philadelphia’s first Juneteenth mural. The unveiling’s entertainment includes Philly’s own Julian King and the Rhythmetrix drummers. Expect an art station and treats from Tiny Cakes. RSVP here. Free. 6228 Germantown Avenue
Juneteenth Festival, Tioga-Nicetown
June 17 from 1 to 4pm marks three for City Athletic Community Partners’ Juneteenth Festival (that feels like a beefed-up block party). The neighborhood can expect great eats — barbecue, funnel cake, water ice — DJ’ed tunes, a bouncy house, horseback rides, jump rope, African drumming, ax-throwing, face-painting, Black vendors. Free. W. Tioga Street between 19th and 20th streets
Juneteenth, Hatfield House, West Philly
A historic former home in West Philadelphia commemorates Juneteenth with live jazz, African drumming, storytelling, games, soft pretzels, water ice, and the new photography exhibit, Healing Through the Land: Black Faces in Green Spaces, from We Walk PHL, In Color Birding and GirlTrek on June 17, from 1 to 5pm. Free. 3201 W. Girard Avenue
Juneteenth Parade & Festival, West Philly
West Philly’s biggest public celebration is, well, big. The Juneteenth Parade & Festival typically attracts more than 25,000 celebrants for four main events There are a parade from 52nd and Parkside on June 18 from noon to 2pm, a Juneteenth Marketplace and Art in the Park at Malcolm X Park (5100 Pine Street) from 10am to 8pm, a just-for-kids carnival there fair activities like face-painting and games, 2 to 7pm, and a Music Festival with Lil Mo, DJ Cupid, and Fatman Scoop from 3 to 7pm at 52nd and Larchwood. Free. 52nd Street
Liberation Rising, African American Museum in Philadelphia, Center City
On the official holiday, the African American Museum in Philadelphia (AAMP) activates inside and out, June 19 from 11am to 4pm. This year’s theme, “Liberation Rising,” commemorates the 50th anniversary of hip hop with performances by the legendary DJ Spinderella, Sa-Roc and Mister Mann Jam Band. Against a sonic backdrop, families and friends can browse the marketplace, make art, line dance, dine at food trucks, and get lucky at giveaways. The whole event is free, including admission to the museum itself and its not-to-be-missed multimedia exhibition, Rising Sun: Artists in an Uncertain America. Free. 701 Arch Street
Juneteenth Festival, Kingsessing, Southwest Philadelphia
Millennial Juneteenth hosts their annual Juneteenth festival on June 19 from 3 to 8pm at Kingsessing Rec Center. Black-owned businesses, including food vendors and artists — Not Ya Mama’s Lemonade, Pyroglyphics Studio, Anavaino Worldwide, Trips & Travel, Superfly Clothing, Dulce Candles, Savouring Sweets, and my dad’s renowned Jamaican jerk chicken — will fill Myers. Attendees can also expect to get down to TopChoice and local Philly performers Manny215, Okay Bomi and Slay Mayas, plus a sure-to-become infamous DJ battle between DJyoungza, DJzigg, DJtystorm, and DJacube. Also onsite: Barbers giving out free haircuts, because it’s only right to keep things fresh on Juneteenth. Looking to volunteer or get involved? Email [email protected] for more info. Free. 4901 Kingsessing Avenue
One goal of Millennial Juneteenth (MJ): Establish a holiday that the youngbouls of Southwest Philly will celebrate for generations to come.
Juneteenth Weekend, Museum of the American Revolution
To understand the range of the Black experience in Revolutionary-era Philadelphia, visit the Museum of the American Revolution’s exhibit Black Founders: The Forten Family of Philadelphia. Over Juneteenth weekend — on June 16 from 5:15 to 7pm, you can also attend the premiere of a documentary about the Fortens onsite (tickets are $20). To get into the museum, you’ll need a ticket: $21-$24 adult, $19 senior, student, military, teacher, $13 ages 6-17. 101 S. 3rd Street
Juneteenth, National Constitution Center
The National Constitution Center offers free admission on July 19 from 10am to 5pm. Once you’re in, catch one of two performances of The Four Harriets, exploring the lives of Harriet Robinson Scott, Harriett Tubman, Harriet Jacobs, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Or, visit the exhibit, Civil War and Reconstruction: The Battle for Freedom and Equality. Kids’ activities: DIY Freedom Fighter portrait. Free. 525 Arch Street
Juneteenth Ceremony, Mount Pleasant, Fairmount
On June 19, at 2pm, historic Mount Pleasant, an 18th-century retreat overlooking the Schuylkill, dedicates a plaque — not to its wealthy, White former owners or guests, but to the enslaved African Americans who sustained the space. The house is open from 1 to 4pm for tours. Free. 3800 Mount Pleasant Drive
Juneteenth: Exploring Freedom’s Stories, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Washington Square West
Where does Juneteenth come from? How did the Civil War come to include emancipation? What happened afterwards? On June 21 from 5 to 7pm, the Historical Society of PA screens a short documentary that answers these questions — and more during an event that invites discussion about history and today. Guests can also view pre-Civil War relics of Black Philadelphia. Free, with registration. 1300 Locust Street
JUNETEENTH FOR KIDS
Juneteenth: Celebrating Literary and Artistic Freedom, Athenaeum, Center City
The African-American Children’s Book Project — the folks behind one of the country’s largest children’s book fairs featuring BIPOC authors and illustrations — are also behind an afternoon of storytelling and book exploration on June 17, from 1 to 3pm. Award-winning book creators Gordon C. James, Shadra Strickland and EB Lewis will be there. Registration requested. Free. 219 S. 6th Street
Juneteenth Celebration, Woodmere Art Museum, Chestnut Hill
June 17 from 4 to 5:15pm, fabulous little Woodmere pays homage to the eminent, Philly-born, Caldecott-winning author and illustrator Jerry Pinkney and his oeuvre of Black history books for children. Pinkney passed not long ago, but Gloria Jean, his wife and an author in her own right will be on hand to sign books and read from his memoir, Just Jerry. Free. 9201 Germantown Avenue
Juneteenth 2023, Please Touch Museum, West Fairmount Park
The Please Touch Museum hosts an all-day celebration, June 19 from 9am to 4:30pm with storytellers Queen Nur, Gloria Ramos and Thembi Palmer, performances by the West Philly H.S. band and the West Powelton Steppers, and both Kente cloth crafts and red velvet cake-making. Admission is $19; $2 for ACCESS cardholders. 4231 Avenue of the Republic
Juneteenth Wine & Arts Festival, Cherry Street Pier
Shekhinah B. of The Women’s Coalition for Empowerment has organized an afternoon of tasting wines by Black vintners, taking in art, watching live performances, and shopping for local crafts on June 17 from 1 to 6pm at Cherry Street Pier — the first ever Juneteenth Wine & Arts Festival. $15 for the wine tasting. 121 N. Columbus Boulevard
Juneteenth Concert, Betsy Ross House, Old City
The Philadelphia Heritage Chorale performs a free Juneteenth Concert of spirituals and gospel in the courtyard of the Betsy Ross House June 18 at 3pm. Free. 239 Arch Street
The ROOTS Art Show, Pentridge Station, Cedar Park
Maybe not an official Juneteenth event, but Shari Jones’ shows are intentionally Afrocentric art event / party at Pentridge Station shows off the work of Black up-and-coming artist who work in clay, paint, photography, body products and and more — with a side of cocktail party on June 18 from 6 to 11pm. 5116 Pentridge Street
Juneteenth Celebration: Sounds of Freedom, Parkway Central Free Library
Karen “Magic Fingaz” Smith, lead percussionist and artistic director of the Sistahs Laying Down Hands Collective leads an evening of flowetry, dance, storytelling, and inclusive joy to highlight Juneteenth, the summer solstice, Pride and Black Music Month. June 22 at 5:30pm. Registration requested. Free. 1901 Vine Street
BLACK HISTORY AND CELEBRATION IN PHILADELPHIA