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How Are Museums Celebrating Juneteenth This Year?

Category: Alliance Blog
A banner of geometric shapes in the pan-African color palette of black, yellow, green, and red

As of 2021, the United States has a new federal holiday: Juneteenth. In the years since June 19, 1865—when Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation and free the remaining African Americans enslaved in the state—Black communities have marked this anniversary to celebrate the end of slavery in the country. Amid the renewed movement for racial justice, last year’s Juneteenth National Independence Day Act officially recognized the holiday to encourage more Americans to celebrate it as the country’s second independence day.

One of the effects of this increased national attention on the holiday has been an explosion of museum programming to commemorate it. Some museums, particularly those with a focus on African American history and culture, have long celebrated the occasion, but the breadth and ambition of programming have grown to impressive heights in recent years, encompassing entertainment, education, and community engagement. Here is just a small selection of some of the programs museums have in store for the second year of Juneteenth as a federal holiday.

Blk Freedom Collective

Now in its third year, the Blk Freedom Collective is a national collaboration between Black-focused museums to host virtual programming for Juneteenth. Each year of programming has a thematic focus, with this year’s being “We the People”—an exploration of the themes of US Constitution. Each of eleven participating institutions has selected a concept from the document’s preamble to guide its contribution to the program:

  • The African American Museum of Philadelphia – “Courage”
  • America’s Black Holocaust Museum – “Resilient”
  • The August Wilson African American Cultural Center – “Champion”
  • The Birmingham Civil Rights Museum – “Remember”
  • The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History – “Echo”
  • The DuSable Museum of African American History – “Cultivate”
  • The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture – “Create”
  • Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park – “Pioneer”
  • The National Civil Rights Museum – “Strive”
  • The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center – “Persevere”
  • The Northwest African American Museum – “Innovate”

Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello

Monticello, the historic home of Thomas Jefferson, will host a livestreamed public program on its West Lawn called “Ascendant: The Power of Descendant Communities to Shape Our Stories, Places, and Future.” Through a series of conversations (with musical interludes), the program will “highlight the importance of descendant voices”—people whose ancestors were enslaved—”in the telling of American history.” Discussions will touch on Monticello’s own “Getting Word” descendant community, the site’s rededicated Burial Ground for Enslaved People, the rising generations of descendants, and the intersection of descendant communities and the arts.

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

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In addition to a “Backyard Boogie”—a day-long jubilee consisting of live performances, guided tours of the city’s Civil Right’s District, children’s activities, and more—the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute will host live genealogy workshops to help African Americans trace their family histories. In collaboration with community partners, including the Birmingham African American Genealogy Group, the museum will offer both beginner- and advanced-level workshops to help participants start or advance their research and overcome common roadblocks that may arise.

Weeksville Heritage Center

In collaboration with Black-Owned Brooklyn, a publication that helps readers discover local Black-owned businesses, Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn will host a two-day Juneteenth Food Festival on its grounds featuring twenty Black vendors offering cuisine from across the African diaspora. In addition to food, the event will feature “a marketplace of Black-owned cultural goods, educational activities and performances, as well as sets from a lineup of all-Black queer and trans DJs.”

National Museum of African American History and Culture

The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture will host not one Juneteenth event, but a number of virtual and in-person programs over the course of several days. The celebration starts in the museum’s Sweet Home Café, where Executive Chef Ramin Coles has designed a special menu to run through the holiday weekend, and will also host a virtual food demonstration alongside NMAAHC curator Joanne Hyppolite. The museum will also screen a documentary about the healthcare system’s substandard treatment of Black Americans, host a keynote and panel discussion about the politics of memory and memorials, and welcome the New Orleans band Gotham Kings for an all-ages “immersive jazz experience.

Atlanta History Center

This year, Atlanta History Center will tie its Juneteenth event into its celebration of Civic Season, using it as an opportunity to “encourage intergenerational dialogue and conversations across differences.” In addition to a “Jubilee on the Lawn” festival encompassing musical performances, games, and other activities, the museum will host educational experiences like a theater performance exploring the origins of Juneteenth, a simulation of the obstacles African Americans have experienced in trying to vote, and a digital soundscape in its Smith Farm’s Enslaved People’s Cabin narrating the experiences of enslaved people in the region.

DuSable Museum of African American History

After making a special announcement about exciting changes in store as it enters a “new era,” the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago will partner with musician Chance the Rapper to present a barbecue and block party, with planned activities including horseback riding, a quilting exhibition, and special performances.

Greensboro History Museum

In addition to a family festival, Greensboro History Museum will host a guided Juneteenth bike tour, called “Pedals and Politics,” that will take cyclists of all ages on a five-mile exploration of “places and people that helped reshape what democracy looked like in Greensboro.” Subjects of the tour will include Zoe P. Barbee, Dr. William Hampton, and Justice Henry Frye.

Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History

For its weekend of Juneteenth programing, the Wright in Detroit will host in-person and online events on the themes of education, economic independence, and community engagement. First it will host an “Underground Railroad Treasure Hunt” in partnership with the Michigan Underground Railroad Exploratory Collective, which will take participants on a tour of five historically significant sites in the city’s downtown. Afterwards, it will set up information tables from community partners “focused on building and extending freedom and equality within the Black community” on its site, screen its Blk Freedom Collective presentation, and host a free concert showcasing the diversity of Black music, including spirituals, hip hop, and electronica.

Please Touch Museum

The Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia will host two days of programming for its children and family audience, with story times, performance art, a marching band, and artmaking activities including a Kente Cloth Workshop, a medicine-making challenge inspired by the developer of the Moderna COVID vaccine, and a patternmaking exercise inspired by African and African American clothing and quilt designs.

The National Archives Museum

In time for Juneteenth, the National Archives Museum in Washington, DC, will display in its galleries the original Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln and the General Order #3 that announced the news of emancipation to Texans. The museum will extend its hours over Juneteenth weekend to increase opportunities to see the documents, as well as host a virtual program with the Association for the Study of African American Life and History featuring a discussion and violin performance.

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