The Juneteenth holiday originated on June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers led by Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to spread the word that the Emancipation Proclamation had ended slavery in the U.S. — two and a half years earlier — and that it was being enforced.
Cornelia Swinson, host of the annual Juneteenth Festival in Germantown and executive director of the Johnson House Historic Site where it’s centered, says educating the community on the history of Juneteenth is an important aspect of the annual festivities.
“That’s the reason that we do the festival every year,” says Swinson. “We’re always teaching and educating the public about the issues of enslavement and the issue of social justice.”
Regional celebrations kicked off this week at Enon Tabernacle in Cheltenham, the Cliveden historic site in Germantown, and elsewhere. Here are some Juneteenth events to catch this weekend and next:
Philadelphia Juneteenth Festival at the Johnson House
A prominent stop on the Underground Railroad, the Johnson House hosted its first Juneteenth celebration in 1998, elevating it to a full-fledged festival in 2006. This year’s festival includes historical reenactments, live performances, and refreshments — including a beer garden for adults — and, for the first time, baby goats for children to pet at the Children’s Village, a space set aside for youngsters. Mayor Kenney will make an appearance at noon. The day opens with a libations ceremony and ends with a concert by Arpeggio Jazz Ensemble at 7 p.m.
Noon to 8 p.m. Saturday June 16, Johnson House and vicinity, 6306 Germantown Ave., free, 215-438-1768, johnsonhouse.org
“Liberty to Go to See” at Cliveden
“Liberty to Go to See” is a live play performed at Cliveden, the former home of the Chew family. The Chews were one of the largest and latest slave-holding families in Philadelphia, and the script for the play — written by Philadelphia Young Playwrights — addresses a topic many Philadelphians overlook: that slaves were held in our city. The audience follows actors throughout the Chew house as the play progresses.
7 p.m. Saturday, June 16, Cliveden, 6401 Germantown Ave., $15 (recommended for ages 12 and up, reservations required), 215-848-1777, cliveden.org.
Kennett Square Juneteenth Celebration
Kennett Square has one of the region’s most impressive concentrations of Underground Railroad sites. This is its first Juneteenth Celebration. Among the activities: a historic walking tour (at 1 p.m.), a pop-up Underground Railroad museum inside the New Garden Memorial UAME Church, and a performance by the Folkloric Heritage band at Bethel A.M.E. Church. Members of the Kennett Square Police Department and representatives from Mayor’s Office will read books with children in a Study Buddies Community Reading Activity about the history of Juneteenth and the abolitionist movement.
Noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, June 16, 300 block, East Linden St., Kennett Square, free, 610-444-8188, historickennettsquare.com
St. Paul’s Juneteenth Celebration
St. Paul’s was the only church to hold regular Sunday services for Civil War soldiers at Cheltenham’s Camp William Penn — the camp where Granger’s troops were based before their historic trek to Texas. The congregation honors that past in a church service. Harriet Tubman reenactor Daisy Century commands the pulpit for Sunday’s sermon to recount Tubman’s life story in a child-friendly performance. Two visiting children’s choirs will sing, and churchgoers can view an “Old York Road to Freedom” exhibit, emphasizing the community’s role with the Underground Railroad.
10 a.m. Sunday, June 17, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 7809 Old York Road, Elkins Park, free, 215.635.4185, stpaulselkinspark.org
Philadelphia Juneteenth Musicfest and Parade
This third annual Juneteenth celebration, hosted by the Philadelphia Community of Leaders (PCOL), kicks off on Friday, June 22, with a wreath-laying ceremony at the Liberty Bell and a remembrance for the slaves held by George Washington. Mayor Kenney will attend. Festivities on Saturday, June 23, begin with a parade from 15th Street and JFK Boulevard to Penn’s Landing and continue with a daylong festival, featuring live entertainment, food, and vendors. Seventeen acts will perform, including acts from Steve Harvey’s Little Big Shots. PCOL is also sponsoring a petition to make Juneteenth an official state holiday.
Ceremonies 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 22, Independence Mall; parade at noon Saturday, June 23, 15th Street and JFK Boulevard to Penn’s Landing; Musicfest until 2-9 p.m. at Penn’s Landing; all free, 267-331-6458, juneteenthphilly.org
Freedom Day at the Please Touch Museum
The museum’s second annual Freedom Day festival offers art activities, dance, and storytelling for children. Philadelphia artist Joy O. Ude will help kids make a large paper freedom quilt, and a hip-hop dance presentation will teach about freedom, diversity, and togetherness. Additional activities include a storytime and conversations with a Civil War reenactor from Philadelphia’s 3rd Regiment U.S. Colored Infantry.
11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, June 24, Please Touch Museum, 4321 Avenue of the Republic, activities free with $19 admission, 215-581-3181, pleasetouchmuseum.org