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.
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 since 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 weekend of celebration:
Celebrating Juneteenth: Honoring the History and Imagining the Future is a free virtual webinar presenting three Black women who are imagining a future of Black business leadership and entrepreneurship.
Ebony Road Players, a local theater company focused on the Black experience, partners with the Grand Rapids Art Museum to present Sheepdog, a one-act play about interracial love on the Cleveland police force. Jun 16-18 at the Museum.
Block Party is a Juneteenth-themed comedy filmed in Grand Rapids and produced by female-and-African-American-owned Branch Out Productions. See it at Celebration Cinema Rivertown.
Support local Black creatives and vendors at the Baxter Juneteenth Celebration held June 18 in Joe Taylor Park. It’s all about family, food, fun, education, empowerment and entertainment.
John Ball Zoo is the site of Juneteenth Fest on June 18, featuring 100+ vendors, live music, food grilling, dancing and kids’ activities, all feeling like a community BBQ.
GRNoir Wine & Jazz hosts Our independence Day: A Juneteenth Concert & Conversation on the evening of June 18. Live entertainment and a three-course meal are included.
GLC Live at 20 Monroe hosts The Prince Experience, a tribute to one of the most influential Black musicians of all time. June 18.
Enjoy food, fun and entertainment at two Juneteenth “pop-up” events: June 18 at Rosa Parks Circle and June 19 at Martin Luther King Park.
Attend the 2nd 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 19 for live music, Black-owned food and business vendors, a graffiti art showcase and more.
The Dreams Take Work Juneteenth Music & Dance Festival takes place June 19 in Heartside Park, with the goal of raising funds for Dreams Take Work youth programming, activities and workshops.
The 5th annual Grand Rapids Juneteenth Dundunba at Dickinson Buffer Park begins with a parade and segues into an afternoon of live entertainment, raffle giveaways and more. June 19.
It’s the perfect weekend to patronize one (or more) of our Black-owned restaurants. Here’s a list of 35+ delicious destinations.
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:
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 all year long.
Portals: Daniel Walker is an Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts exhibition showcasing vibrant digital paintings that highlight the beauty, innovation and resiliency of African Americans. On display through June 30.
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.
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.