The Ultimate Guide to Juneteenth in New Orleans
Celebrate the newest federal holiday from New Orleans to Mississippi.
The Emancipation Proclamation effectively ended human enslavement in the United States by executive order on January 1, 1863. However, it would take more than two years for General Robert Granger and Union soldiers to make their way to the outermost reaches of the confederacy. When they finally reached Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, through an Executive Order, General Granger stated, “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
With those words, the last enslaved people in the United States were liberated by the federal government.
A year later, the first Jubilees were held to commemorate the day that would come to be known as Juneteenth, Jubilee Day, Freedom Day, and Emancipation Day. These celebrations first surfaced in Texas, then across the South and, later, the rest of the United States with picnics, barbecues, and other family-centered events.
But life under reconstruction and the Jim Crow South made it dangerous to celebrate without fear of repercussions and segregation forced most celebrations away from the eye of the general public into private spaces such as homes and churches. With the Great Migration, Southerners who moved north and west brought their own traditions to their new homes. In certain communities the day bears more significance than the 4th of July.
The push to turn Juneteenth into a state holiday in Texas in 1980 was a direct catalyst towards Martin Luther King Day being declared a national holiday three years later, according to Clint Smith author of How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America. It has been a slow crawl towards bringing collective consciousness to understand the importance of Juneteenth. It was finally designated a federal holiday by President Biden last year.
As Gordon Smith writes in Juneteenth: The Stories Behind The Celebration, “Juneteenth commemorates both the long, terrible night of slavery and discrimination that preceded it, as well as the promise of a brighter future.”
During this holiday, we celebrate our ancestors for what they were able to overcome and remind ourselves of who we are, where we’ve been, and the possibilities of who we might become. Juneteenth is a celebration of collective liberation.
Here in New Orleans, where we have a wealth of Black history at our fingertips, there are plenty of ways to celebrate the holiday. Here’s our weekend guide, complete with historical tours, festivals, burlesque shows, and more.
The Whitney Plantation is the only plantation in Louisiana that focuses on the story of the enslaved, centering their voices at the core of the experience. Black peoples’ legacies and stories have been traditionally hidden from us and the world. Unlike most historical sites, that is not the case here. Learning about the past helps us to understand the struggles we have overcome and how our contributions laid the foundation for how this country was built. Smith says in his book, the Whitney is “an open book under the sky, that people can come here to see.” There is nothing to hide about the truth of what the life of the enslaved was prior to their freedom and liberation. The first time I went it brought me to tears and it stayed with me for weeks. Its effects are deeply in the pores of this country today and within that are the accomplishments from our ancestors that have built the foundations on which we stand today.
Cost: General admission is $25; children ages six to eight are in for $11; and kids under six can get in for free.
Saturday June 18
This Junteenth celebration brings together musical legends and burlesque dancers in the historic Tremé at 8 pm on Saturday at Kermit's Tremé Mother-in-Law Lounge. Hosted by Jeez Loueez, the creator of Jeezy’s Juke Joint: A Black-Q Revue, the only Black burlesque festival in the United States, the event aims to celebrate Black people and Black bodies in a unique way. “I want to bring burlesque back into Black communities where it started,” says the award-winning burlesque performer, Loueez. “Jazz and burlesque are two things that go hand and hand.”
Cost: $20, plus cash to tip.
Saturday, June 18
“The contributions of African Americans in Tremé, New Orleans, and our nation are so vast and important to American culture that at the New Orleans African American Museum, we situate ourselves as an international cultural epicenter,” says Gia M Hamilton, executive director and chief curator of the museum. To celebrate the museum's special place in American culture and history, it brings together Black business vendors, farmers, and local artists every third Saturday to build community and envision a future centered in Black existence.
This week, the museum is hosting a special Juneteenth edition on Saturday from 1 - 4 pm. The family-friendly installment aims to give visitors the resources to educate themselves on Black history by offering the space and tools to navigate the world with a sense of purpose. There will be time to celebrate, educate, discuss, and reflect.
Sunday, June 19
Chef Serigne Mbaye started his Dakar NOLA Pop-Up in the midst of COVID. He serves Sengelase fare with a modern twist in a communal setting using fresh local ingredients while telling the story of the deep cultural connection between Sengambia and New Orleans. In addition to a recent stint at Mosquito Supper Club with James Beard Foundation (JBF) award-winner, Melissa Martin, he also recently was nominated as a rising chef by JBF.
To celebrate Juneteenth, Mbaye is spearheading a gathering of top local culinary talent—including chef Charly Pierre, of Fritai Restaurant; chef Martha Wiggins, of Cafe Reconcile; chef Indigo Martin, of Indigo Soul Cuisine; and chef Sim J Harris, of House of Brown Sugar—with another one of his acclaimed communal feasts. Dishes will be mostly cooked over live fire in the tradition of the ancestors. Cocktails will be curated by my organization, Turning Tables (a local non profit that advocates for equity in the hospitality industry), and will feature Black-owned producers and distillers, using produce from farms in the surrounding region. It takes place on the farm of Ben Burkett on Sunday from 3 - 6 pm.
Saturday, June 18
The mission of Ascendance “is to heal and affirm our people through celebration, joy, and spiritual commune with each other and our ancestors.” The Ascendance monthly celebration takes place this Saturday June 18 from 11 pm - 2:30 am, celebrating both Pride and Juneteenth at Cafe Istanbul.
Sunday, June 19
WBOK is commemorating Juneteenth with their inaugural city-wide Juneteenth Freedom Fest. This festival celebrates the culture and spirit of those enslaved peoples, their fight for freedom, equal rights, and equitable treatment in all areas of life. From 11:30 am - 6 pm on Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. between Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. and St. Mary Street, attendees can enjoy shopping, music, food, celebration, and panels including “My Ancestors Taught Me: Health and Healing from Africa to the Americas,” “For Us, By Us: Creating Generational Wealth and Economic Empowerment in the Black Community,” and “FatherHood: Celebrating and Supporting Black Fathers.”
Saturday, June 18
This Second Annual Juneteenth Freedom Gala is highlighting community leaders and artists in a night of Black beauty and excellence on Saturday starting at 7 pm at Tremé Market Branch. The semi-formal evening includes a dinner (vegan-friendly options available), live band, film screening, Black trivia, and an artist presentation and auction by artist Alina Allen. Wear your best formal red, black, and green or African attire.