Communities, organizations and individuals across Baltimore on Saturday will celebrate Juneteenth, which on Thursday was made a national holiday.
Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union general Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas to tell enslaved people that the Civil War had ended and they were free.
That announcement came two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring enslaved people free. Even after 1865, prison labor and debt servitude perpetuated systems of slavery.
The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday voted to recognize Juneteenth as the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was added in 1983. The U.S. Senate unanimously approved the legislation on Tuesday, and President Joe Biden signed the bill into law on Thursday.
Although the Black community has celebrated Juneteenth as the end of slavery since the late 1800s, the holiday drew wider recognition after the murder of George Floyd and summer protests for racial justice in 2020.
The Reservoir Hill Association and its partners will hold a Freedom Day Juneteenth Celebration for the Baltimore community on Saturday starting at 10:30 a.m. in German Park.
The free festival will feature activities like live music, a children’s activity village, and capacity building youth workshops from DewMore Baltimore.
“The Reservoir Hill community is determined to use this event as a platform to celebrate unsung American stories of Black freedom, Black achievement, and Black solidarity,” said event chairperson Imani Bryan.
There will also be a free walk-up COVID-19 vaccination clinic, health screenings, health insurance enrollment, and financial literacy workshops.
Individuals interested in volunteering at the event can sign up on the RHA website or contact volunteer coordinator Catalina Byrd at 443-928-9366.
The Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture will celebrate the holiday by offering free admission to the first 250 visitors on Saturday.
Dr. Chris Bonner, an assistant professor of history at University of Maryland, will give a lecture at the museum at 10 a.m. about the Reconstruction Era and the Freedmen’s Bureau, which the U.S. government established in 1865 to provide aid to formerly enslaved people and their families.
Following that lecture, Quinton Gregory, also of University of Maryland, College Park, will give a demonstration about the Smithsonian Freedmen’s Bureau Transcription Project. The event can also be watched online through the museum’s website.
At 1 p.m., mother-son duo Carole and Jeffery Boston Weatherfod will hold a reading of Carole’s book, Juneteenth Jamboree, and perform interactive spoken word. There will also be a demonstration of how to make a corn husk doll. This event will be available online as well.
The Short Kuts Live Storytelling Show, featuring stories of liberation to redemption songs by Bob Marley, will start at 4 p.m. The featured storytellers will explore the joys and perils of freedom. Individuals can RSVP and purchase tickets online.