Juneteenth – short for June Nineteenth – commemorates the emancipation of enslaved Black Americans in the United States. The Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, but the last enslaved Americans weren’t freed until June 19, 1865, when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas with the news that the Civil War had ended and slavery in the United States was abolished.
Free Texans celebrated “Jubilee Day” in 1866 and the idea of commemorating the end of slavery slowly spread to communities across the rest of the country until Juneteenth was recognized as a federal holiday in 2021. Grand Rapids has been officially marking the occasion before the 1990s. Today, we salute and support events that honor the history, culture and progress of African Americans – and invite you to join in a long weekend of celebration.
Attend the 3rd annual Justice 4 All Juneteenth Jam sponsored by the city and local African American apparel company Justice 4 All. Head to Rosa Parks Circle June 17 for live music, Black-owned food and business vendors, a graffiti art showcase and more.
Support local Black creatives and vendors at the Baxter Juneteenth Celebration held June 17 in Joe Taylor Park. It’s all about family, food, fun, education, empowerment and entertainment.
Head to Martin Luther King Park for the 3rd annual Juneteenth Pop-Up Shop on June 17.
Groove to the soulful, poetic hip-hop of Last Gasp Collective in concert at Midtown in downtown GR, June 18.
Join the West Michigan Jewels of Africa – a traditional African drum and dance troupe – for the Juneteenth Freedom Parade on June 19. The parade starts at the corner of Hall St. and Eastern Ave. at noon and proceeds to Dickinson Park for a day of family-friendly music, food, local vendors, artists and dance performances.
Bring the family to the 6th annual Grand Rapids Juneteenth Dundunba at Dickinson Park for a cultural celebration with singing, dancing, music and stories sharing the knowledge and history of the Black community. June 19.
Beyond the Weekend
That’s a lot to fit into one weekend – so feel free to extend your Juneteenth celebration (and appreciation of Black culture) into the following days and weeks:
Grammy-winning gospel musician Jonathan McReynolds plays Elevation at The Intersection on June 20.
The Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives is a treasure trove of historical and cultural artifacts that convey the stories of local African Americans. It’s open Tuesdays-Saturdays.
The Grand Rapids Public Museum presents Overcoming Hateful Things: Stories from the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Imagery, which shows the ways African Americans pushed back against racial injustice. June 3-Sep. 3.
Download the GR Walks smartphone app to take a Black History Tour of Downtown Grand Rapids, which features 11 points of interest.
Also downtown: see bronze sculptures of Lyman Parks (the city’s first African American mayor), Helen Claytor (first African American president of the Grand Rapids YWCA and national YWCA) and civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks – all part of the city’s Community Legends Project.
Take the self-guided 49507 Project Mural Tour, which highlights the work of Black and Brown artists on Black and Brown-owned businesses in a neighborhood that historically suffered from redlining and disinvestment.
Enjoy a delicious meal all year-round at these Black-owned restaurants in Grand Rapids.
Check out these resources from the Grand Rapids Public Library to learn more about the history of emancipation and the continuing struggle for a more just world.