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Juneteenth happenings abound in Boston area

Scott Haas
Juneteenth happenings abound in Boston area
Professor Charles Ogletree with Edmund B. Gaither and Mrs. Wilma Browne during a previous year’s Juneteenth Emancipation Observance. PHOTO: E.B. GAITHER/MUSEUM FILE

A block party, dances, poetry, art, and marches are among the many ways to observe Juneteenth this year in Boston.

The Boston Juneteenth Committee leads the way with its 12th Annual Emancipation Observance. In collaboration with the National Center for African American Artists, this year’s event will start with a march at 1:00 P.M. from the Boys & Girls Club at 115 Warren Street and end at the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists at 300 Walnut Avenue. The formal 90 minute program begins at the museum at 4 p.m. with the site open for activities at 2:30 p.m.

“Purposeful action, anchored in truth is this year’s theme,” said Barry Gaither, co-chair of the annual Observance, and director and curator of the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists. “The event will include awards to two young people for their civic engagement, and the really serious part of the program when we read aloud the three Federal documents around which Juneteenth is organized: the Emancipation Proclamation, the third general order of General Granger, and the 13th Amendment.” 

This year’s keynote speaker is Rachael Rollins, the United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, and the first Black woman to hold that position. Nominated by President Biden, Attorney Rollins was sworn in only a few months ago on January 10.

On site at the museum will be, “retail and food vendors, storytelling, entertainment, and a re-enactment of the 54th Massachusetts regiment.” That regiment was made up of free Black volunteers who were part of the Union army in the Civil War.

Numerous events marking Juneteenth are taking place all over Boston. 

On Friday, June 17, from 4 p.m. until 9 p.m., the King Foundation, as part of its five-day Embrace Ideas event, is sponsoring a free Block Party at Blair Lot in Nubian Square. Music will be provided by SuperSmashBroz, Slick Vick, ReaL P and DJ Chubby Chub. And food will be available, “by the area’s best BIPOC-owned food trucks.”

DiDi Delgado and #DoneForDiDi are hosting a poetry slam from 6:30 to 11:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 18, 2022, at Nubian Gallery at 2164 Washington Street. Delgado, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Cambridge, notes that the free event is, “a celebration of Black liberation, of Black futures, of Black self-determination and sustainability, but you wouldn’t know that because reparations are long past due, and can’t be fixed simply by observance of a national holiday.”

On Monday, June 22nd, the Museum of Fine Arts will have a full day of free events — “tickets available on a first-come, first-served basis.” These include, at 11 a.m. and noon, “Spotlight Talks in ‘Touching Roots: Black Ancestral Legacies in the Americas’.” Presented by writer and curator Chenoa Baker, participants can, “explore color as a subliminal message within evolving pan-African consciousness.” And: “The Most Estranged Fruits,” at 11:30 a.m. – noon, 2:15 – 2:45 p.m. and 4 – 4:30 p.m. Presented by Danny Rivera, lead organizer with AIR Boston (the Artist Initiative for Revolution), Juneteenth will be explored, “through dance, music, poetry, visual art, and more that draws on key historical references, quotes, essays, and archival film, to explore the myth of Black liberation in US democracy.”

On June 21, 2021, Boston officially observed Juneteenth as a state holiday. A few days prior, the day was recognized as a federal holiday on June 17, 2021, when President Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law.

The holiday, according to the City of Boston website, commemorates, “the day (June 19th) in 1865 that Union soldiers, led by General Gordon Granger, reached Galveston, Texas, and announced to the state that the Civil War was over and that all enslaved persons had been declared free.” 

“It’s an event of reverence, education, and reflection,” said  Jumaada Abdal-Khallaq Henry Smith, J.D., chairperson of the Boston Juneteenth Committee and co-chair of the annual Observance. “And now that it’s become a national holiday? That’s fuel to my soul.”