The Fourth of July is coming right up, but first, there’s an American celebration in June you shouldn’t miss. President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation became official on January 1, 1863, and General Lee surrendered in April 1865, but it wasn’t until a few months later that enforcement of the executive order banning slavery in the United States reached Texas.
Major General Gordon Granger and his unit of Union soldiers landed at Galveston on June 19, 1865, with the news (and the muscle to back it up) that African Americans in Texas were free people. History offers us several theories on why Texas was so late to this particular bit of American policy, but June 19, dubbed Juneteenth, became an annual celebration of freedom, self-determination, and self-improvement among African-American communities.
Since the late 19th century, the observance of Juneteenth has spread from Texas across the country, and especially in Philadelphia, without losing its traditional focus, it’s become a holiday open to all families.
On Saturday, June 17, Philadelphians can catch our own annual Juneteenth Festival in Germantown, happening on the 6300 block of Germantown Avenue (co-presented by Johnson House Historic Site and the 6300 Block Business Alliance).
Free and open to the public, the day begins at 11am at 5109 Germantown Avenue, at the historic marker commemorating the place where America’s first antislavery petition was written, almost a century before the United States even formed, in 1688. From there, a Freedom Walk parade will head up Germantown Avenue to the Johnson House, for festivities until 8pm including a cultural marketplace, music, food and a beer garden, and historical reenactments.
In association with the Juneteenth Festival, the Germantown Mennonite Meetinghouse will host a panel discussion titled the State of Black Women, at 2pm (sponsored by groups including the Philadelphia Commission for Women and Women’s March Philadelphia). Five speakers and moderator Jovida Hill (executive director of the Philadelphia Commission for Women) will focus on health care, economics, education, politics, and justice. It’s free and open to the public, but advance registration is recommended.
The 2017 Juneteenth Festival is coming to the 6300 block of Germantown Avenue on Saturday, June 17, from 11am to 8pm.