How to commemorate Juneteenth 2020 in Pittsburgh

Juneteenth 2020 is here and at a pivotal moment for African-American history — one marked by widespread protests and urgent conversations about racism, police brutality, and Black life in America.

And while it’s a relatively new state holiday in Pennsylvania, Juneteenth (June 19th) is the oldest commemoration of the end of slavery in the U.S.

Here’s the story behind it and how to celebrate in Pittsburgh this year. 

What is Juneteenth? 

Broadly speaking, Juneteenth is a celebration of the end of slavery in the U.S. 

On June 19, 1865 — more than two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation — Union soldiers landed in Galveston, Texas with word that the Civil War had ended and Black people were now free. Those enslaved in Texas were among the last to know. 

But as the Atlanta Journal Constitution pointed out, slavery in Texas did not end overnight, and generations of Black people would continue to struggle under new forms of oppression just beginning to manifest in the Reconstruction era that followed the Civil War. 

Read more about the origins of Juneteenth here, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., via The Root.

Is Juneteenth a federal holiday? 

No. But many cities and states — including Pennsylvania — and companies like Google, Nike, and Target have chosen to recognize it independently. 

How is Juneteenth celebrated? 

With parades, plays, festivities, and activities honoring African-American culture. 

How can I celebrate this year as an ally? 

HellaJuneteenth, a California-based advocacy group, is urging Black folks everywhere to take the day off of work, adding, “… in true solidarity with our ancestors, it’s only right that we declare this to be a day free of labor.”

The group also has commemoration tips for allies near the bottom of the page here. It urges allies to spend this Juneteenth learning about the Black experience, reflecting on personal identity and privilege, speaking out against racism, and engaging with anti-racist activists and organizations on social media. 

Also, support Black-owned local businesses. Here’s our list to get you started.

Are there any Juneteenth events happening in Pittsburgh? 

Yes. We’ll be including Juneteenth celebrations in our newsletter’s events calendar. (Some local celebrations were postponed by the pandemic this year.)

Here’s a peek at a few to check out:

🚘 Check out cool cars at the Black LGBTQ Liberation Car Cruise (Oakland)

☀️ Celebrate Juneteenth at a physically distanced picnic (Squirrel Hill)

👟 Take a virtual walk to see Black historic landmarks in Pittsburgh on Juneteenth (Online)

City Paper also has a detailed roundup of Juneteenth events going on around town in the coming weeks. 

What else do I need to know?

Juneteenth coincides with a solemn anniversary, that of the fatal police shooting of an unarmed African-American teenager named Antwon Rose II in East Pittsburgh two year ago.

At the 2018 Juneteenth parade in Pittsburgh, Rose’s death was frequently invoked as an example of the strides and progress yet to be made in this country. And now, after the acquittal of the officer who shot him and with police brutality in the national spotlight, Rose will no doubt loom large over this year’s commemorations.

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