Celebrating Juneteeth

Join the festivities for our newest federal holiday at these towns around the Bay

Juneteenth became a national holiday in 2021, but its history as a day of celebration is much longer than that. Although President Lincoln freed enslaved people on January 1, 1863 by signing the Emancipation Proclamation, African Americans in Galveston, Texas didn’t learn of their freedom until two years later, on June 19, 1865, when arriving Union troops announced the end of the Civil War. That day became known as Juneteenth, and it became Black Texas tradition to celebrate every year since. While the history was widely known throughout the south, few communities throughout the rest of the country commemorated it until last year, when President Biden declared the day a federal holiday. As a day of remembrance, Juneteenth galvanizes people of all ages and backgrounds to recognize our nation’s shared past and enjoy Black culture in the present, with many activities and events scheduled across the country. Here’s how you can join in the festivities around the Chesapeake Bay region, from cities and towns to our state capitals.


MARYLAND

Annapolis

Last year, Phyllis “Tee” Adam had a dream where she saw people having fun in a big field. She had no idea why they were there, but another dream days later left her with one word: Juneteenth. That dream sparked Annapolis’s first celebration, held in 2020 and attracting more than 4,000 visitors in its inaugural year. 

This year’s highly anticipated celebration kicks off with a VIP Gala on June 17 that honors the community’s unsung heroes with an awards ceremony and dinner. The formal event will be held at the Crowne Plaza hotel and tickets are available online at theannapolisjuneteenth.org.

June 18 will be full of celebrations that are free to the public, including a parade that sets off from City Dock at noon and ends at the Bates Weems Whalen Field around 2 p.m. The starting place marks the entry point of many enslaved Africans’ first arrival to Maryland, at what was then the state’s central port. The field is where the fun begins. Local musicians including the Avery Sunshine Band, the Chuck Brown Band, and gospel singers Beverly Crawford and Karyn Hawthorne will keep the crowd going until the night ends with fireworks at 9:30 p.m. This gathering is expected to draw thousands who will buy from local vendors, play in the interactive family and children’s zone, and learn more about Annapolis’s Black community. (As of press time, volunteers, entertainers, and sponsors still have time to sign up for the two-day event.)

On June 21, Visit Annapolis and Anne Arundel County will host a virtual lecture by Dr. Richard Bell, Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland, and author of the new book Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped into Slavery and Their Astonishing Odyssey Home, the true story of five free boys who were kidnapped in Philadelphia and fought to return home. For more details and tickets, check the Visit Annapolis website at visitannapolis.org

Juneteenth Celebration in Annapolis 2021. Photo by: Luke Thompson

Baltimore 

Long known for hosting one of the East Coast’s largest African American festivals, with up to 100,000 attendees, Baltimore is back at it this year. On Juneteenth weekend at Druid Hill Park, the Baltimore AFRAM Festival, in partnership with Baltimore City Recreation and Parks, will celebrate with art displays, musical performances, local food vendors, and workshops designed to educate and entertain. It is poised to become Baltimore’s official anchor celebration of the new national holiday. For more information go to the Afram website at aframbaltimore.com.

Chestertown 

This celebration is sponsored by the Bayside HOYAS, a youth-centered nonprofit,  in partnership with the Town of Chestertown and the Black Union of Kent County. It begins on June 17 at 6 p.m. in Fountain Park with a reconciliation ceremony and block party featuring local band Dell Foxx Company. On June 18 at 11 a.m., the celebrations continue with the Frederick Douglass Day of Acknowledgement, an awards ceremony, and other commemorative events at Wilmer Park.

Darlington

The 6th Annual Juneteenth Celebration Festival will take place on Saturday, June 18, at the historic Hosanna School Museum, located in this small town near the Susquehanna. Also known as the Berkley School, it was the first of four Freedmen’s Bureau schoolhouses in Harford County, built in 1867 on land formerly owned by a free African American named Cupid Paca. As one of the last Freedmen’s schools still standing in the state, the Museum’s commemoration is particularly meaningful. Enjoy a day full of good food, fun, and edu-tainment with music, lectures, craft vendors, costumed interpreters, food trucks, and more.

Salisbury

The Eastern Shore celebrations will start at 1 p.m. with a parade beginning at the intersection of Market and Main Streets in downtown Salisbury. Expect marching bands, classic cars, and costumed dance groups, followed by a street festival on North Division Street. Vendors and volunteers can sign up until June 1, and you can learn more at esjuneteenth.com.

St. Leonard

On June 19, take part in a day of fun for the whole family by celebrating African American Family Community Day at Jefferson Patterson Park, sponsored by the Calvert County NAACP.  There will be contests, food and merchandise vendors, a health fair, children’s entertainment, and a living history tour. Keep an eye on calvertnaacp.org for updates and head to choosecalvert.com to learn more about southern Maryland’s Black histories with a downloadable map listing heritage sites around the county.

VIRGINIA

Hampton Roads

The Hampton Roads African American communities are proud to announce their 757 Juneteenth Freedom Fest on June 18. The festival is free to the public but an e-ticket must be downloaded from Eventbrite in order to enter the fairgrounds. (It will also count as your entry to a raffle.) Festivities start with a 10 a.m. parade from the event venue, followed by a celebration highlighting the contributions of local African American communities. The festival will also include various workshops, a baseball game, a kids’ zone, BBQ, and lots of other interesting events. Visit 757FreedomFest.org for further details.

Portsmouth

Sponsored by The City of Portsmouth, RAM’S Youth Center and The Book Club, preparations are underway to celebrate Juneteenth all weekend long  in downtown Olde Towne. The event promises three days of music, dance, and theatre starting on June 17, including the Sheri Bailey play Abolitionists’ Museum. There will be discussions about history and health. Local vendors will also sell their wares. Keep an eye on their website juneteenthva.org and contact [email protected]
to sign up as a vendor or volunteer. 

Richmond

The Elegba Folklore Society will host its 26th annual Juneteenth, A Freedom Celebration, from June 24 to 26 at Richmond’s African Burial Ground. This celebration is known as one of Virginia’s premier commemorations highlighting Richmond’s inheritance of slavery and emancipation. This year, visitors can see the African Nyon Coya masquerades in ceremonies to honor African ancestors and seek their blessings. Richly told stories will be shared by guest speakers and healers, and a Freedom Market will offer great food and shopping for books, clothing, and more. Find more about the festivities at efsinc.org/events/festivals/juneteenth/.