Juneteenth is here, and it’s the first time the City of Pittsburgh, the state of Pennsylvania, and the entire U.S. are commemorating it as a holiday, together. With widespread protests in 2020 following the police murder of George Floyd, 2021 is continuing the critical conversations about racism, police brutality, and being Black in America.
Juneteenth is the only holiday that commemorates the abolition of slavery and the emancipation of ensalved Africans throughout the country.
As of June 19, 2019, Pa. Governor Tom Wolf signed legislation designating the permanent recognition of June 19 as Juneteenth National Freedom Day in Pa. On August 29, 2020, mayor Bill Peduto announced Juneteenth as a holiday in the city of Pittsburgh starting this year.
Read on for some history behind the holiday and how to celebrate in Pittsburgh this year.
What is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth celebrates the official end of slavery and specifically commemorates the arrival of Union soldiers in Gavleston, TX, who delivered the news to the enslaved that they were free. They were among the last to know that the Emancipation Proclamation was signed over two years prior.
But even after the “official” end of slavery generations of Black people have continued to struggle under new forms of oppression from sharecropping to Jim Crow to today’s prison industrial complex. Read more about the origins of Juneteenth here, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., via The Root.
Is Juneteenth a federal holiday?
Up until this year, Juneteenth was not recognized as a federal holiday. But earlier this week, Congress voted overwhelmingly to change that, and President Joe Biden signed a bill into law making it the first new federal holiday created by Congress since 1983 — Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
How is Juneteenth celebrated?
With parades, plays, festivities, and activities honoring African American culture.
How can I celebrate this year as an ally?
From Colin Deppen’s Juneteenth coverage last year:
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.
And it’s always a good idea to support Pittsburgh’s Black-owned businesses. Here’s our list to get you started.
Are there any Juneteenth events happening in Pittsburgh?
Yes. Lots! Here’s our round-up of activities:
🎇 Kick off WPA’s 2021 Juneteenth weekend with Pittsburgh-Allegheny County Juneteenth Freedom Days Celebration. The weekend event is a celebration of all cities and boroughs in Allegheny county. It will involve African American culture education, live music, vendors, speakers, and more. (Downtown)
- Each day will hold themed music performances:
- June 18- Battle of the Bands Showcase
- June 19- Legendary Hip Hop & RnB Showcase
- June 20- Classic Soul Showcase
As part of Sunday’s portion of the festival, join WPA Juneteenth to attempt to set a Guinness Book of World Records record for the longest soul train dance line. (Downtown)
🏆 Kids of all ages can enjoy the WPA Juneteenth Youth Fest this weekend. The Youth Fest will celebrate with flag football tournaments, basketball tournaments, a kids fun zone, a Penguins dek hockey experience, a gaming zone, kickball games, and more. Alongside all of the fun activities, music, speakers, and special events will be held. (Mellon Park)
🎨 Join 1Hood Media at City of Asylum on Friday for Art As Liberation: Celebrating Black Art in Pittsburgh. The outdoor event will honor Juneteenth with an afternoon of music, a visual arts fair, performances, and free food. Proceeds from this event benefit the Antwon Rose II Foundation. (North Side)
🎤 Celebrate in Frick Park on Saturday with the Juneteenth Concert. Guests are encouraged to bring a picnic and a blanket to enjoy the three music performances while sitting in the lawn of the Frick Environmental Center. After the music, you can sign up for tours of the FEC’s Slavery to Freedom Garden. (Squirrel Hill)
🍳 Join Everyday Cafe on Saturday for a delicious brunch and worthwhile conversation with artist Mikael Owunna and curator Larry Ossei-Mensah. The pair will be discussing their campaign and art projects at Everyday Cafe’s Juneteenth Brunch & Conversation. (Homewood South)
🎵 Continue celebrating Juneteenth at WPA’s Juneteenth & Black Music Festival with various artists from June 21 through June 27. (Downtown)
The Black Music Fest will feature various artists and groups:
- June 21-23: Local artists
- June 24: Jazz Day
- June 25: Gospel Day
- June 26: RnB Day
- June 27: Soul Day
In addition to RnB Day on the June 26, you can join the celebration of the passing of the 13th and 15th amendments, the end of slavery and the right to vote with a reenactment of the 1870 Jubilee Freeman Parade through Downtown.
- What is the 1870 Grand Jubilee Parade?
- In Feb. 1870, the United States Congress ratified the 15th Amendment giving Black men the right to vote. This voting right victory was largely due to the activism of National Equal Rights League members. They had fought for Black suffrage since 1831 when the North revoked Black voting rights because of slave rebellions.
- In celebration of the amendment, the NERL and Pennsylvania State Executive Committee held a national parade and festival in the City of Pittsburgh. Over 1,000 people attended from all across the United States.
- The event showcased all types of people parading through the streets of the city to celebrate the grand victory. The parade was led by bands, soldiers, horses, etc. Houses were even grandly decorated to showcase their joy for the amendment.
🛍️ Shop and explore Black businesses at The Black Market: Celebration of Black Owned Businesses on June 26. The Black Environmental Collective and Pittsburgh Parks Conservatory have come together to provide a market and space for Black businesses to share their products and expertise. (Upper Hill)
For more information on Juneteenth celebrations in Western PA, visit wpajuneteenth.com.
What else do I need to know?
Juneteenth coincides with a somber anniversary in the city of Pittsburgh — the fatal police shooting of an unarmed Black teenager, Antwon Rose II, in East Pittsburgh three years ago.
After the officer who shot and killed Antwon Rose II was acquitted in 2019, Juneteenth celebrations in Pittsburgh brought the conversation around police brutality to a national spotlight. Year after year, Antwon Rose II is remembered and honored, and the community seeks action and justice in his name.