Where to Celebrate Juneteenth Around the Country This Year

Coming off its first year as a federal holiday, the Jubilee Day festivities are just getting started.

Hit up a Juneteenth celebration and you might partake in a homogenous spread of red foods: watermelon and red velvet cake, red soda and hibiscus tea, red sausages and strawberry pie. Festive and delicious, but also sobering—the color is believed to symbolize the struggle and bloodshed of African Americans. This June 19 marks 157 years since Union troops galloped into Galveston Bay, Texas, and announced to the 250,000 people still enslaved in the state that they were legally free.

Though the Emancipation Proclamation technically went into effect two years earlier in 1863, it took longer for it to be implemented in states ruled by the Confederacy, and the westernmost Confederate state of Texas was the last to be notified. “Juneteenth” became a day of celebration by the newly freed population, first documented in Austin in 1867, and introduced to the rest of the country during the Great Migration. For decades, thanks to a combination of Jim Crow-era restrictions and plain old racism, the holiday was mostly celebrated behind closed doors by African American households.

The Civil Rights Movement brought renewed popularity to the holiday, which both honors our nation’s second day of independence and acknowledges the battles still yet to be won. In 1980, Juneteenth became a statewide holiday in Texas, with 47 states following suit. But it wasn’t until the racial reckoning of 2020 that many Americans were even made aware of the holiday. A campaign was soon launched to recognize it federally, and in 2021, Juneteenth became a federal holiday—which means one year later, the party is just getting started.

Here are some of the best and most compelling Juneteenth—AKA Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Emancipation Day, or Liberation Day—celebrations going down around the US this year.

Waving the Juneteenth flag. | Mark Felix/AFP/Getty Images

Montgomery, Alabama

In part due to a 1950s bus boycott that forever changed the course of history, Montgomery is widely regarded as the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement. And they throw a Juneteenth bash to match. On June 18, the Rosa Parks Museum hosts the 7th Annual Juneteenth Celebration, with free admission, live music and vendors, and an authentic 1950s Montgomery city bus on display. On June 17 comes Manifest Liberty Gala: A Multi-Generational Gathering, which emphasizes storytelling and song, and on June 18, the Riverwalk Amphitheater is where you’ll find Global African Diaspora Heritage Day, an evening roster of spoken word, theater, crafts, poetry, literature, food trucks, and at least one aerialist.

Alexandria, Virginia

This May, the Freedom House Museum reopened in Alexandria, stashed in what remains of a large complex used in the trafficking of thousands of Black men, women, and children from 1828 to 1861. Three new exhibitions are on view: 1315 Duke Street, which includes archaeological artifacts and stories of those trafficked in the slave trade; Determined, which traces four centuries of Black history in Virginia; and Before the Spirits Are Swept Away, a series of paintings by the late Sherry Z. Sanabria depicting historically significant African American sites. The museum is set to celebrate its grand reopening on June 20, the date of this year’s federally observed Juneteenth holiday.

Richmond, Virginia

It’s been said that one in four African Americans can trace their origins back to Richmond, Virginia. The city was at the center of the slave trade in the country, and their Emancipation and Freedom Monument is one of the few nationwide that commemorates those enslaved. On Saturday, June 18, the area’s free Juneteenth festivities are taking over Dorey Park in nearby Henrico County, complete with a kids zone, vendors, and fireworks. Visitors can also retrace the actual path of enslaved peoples by walking along the self-guided Richmond Slave Trail, which includes 17 markers chronicling the history of enslavement in the area.

The Absolute Equality mural was unveiled last year. | Courtesy of Visit Galveston

Galveston, Texas

As you can imagine, the birthplace of Juneteenth goes all out for its celebrations, not all of which you have to be present to witness. This year, kick things off with a free webinar on June 15. Titled Where it All Began, you’ll hear stories from local historians and organizations dedicated to preserving the stories and memories from that day. June 17 brings the Emancipation Celebration to The Grand 1894 Opera House, with a gospel choir and award presentation, while June 18th sets the stage for the annual Juneteenth Proclamation Reading (you can see what that looks like here). It’s followed by a decked-out parade and day-long festival. While you’re there, check out the self-guided freedom walk or African American history tour and make sure you see Absolute Equality, a new 5,000-square-foot mural unveiled last year.

Houston, Texas

Less than an hour away from Galveston, Houston’s Juneteenth celebration mirrors its state’s massive size. In 1872, a group of formerly enslaved people purchased 10 acres of land and began using the plot for their own Juneteenth observances. Emancipation Park, as it’s known, was the only public park and swimming pool in Houston open to African Americans until the 1950s. Over 150 years later, the festivities keep on keeping on, launching June 1 and culminating in a two-day salute with performances by the The Isley Brothers and Kool & the Gang on June 18, followed by Sheila E. and Frankie Beverly & Maze on June 19.

Dancin' in Atlanta. | Megan Varner/Getty Images News

Atlanta, Georgia

MLK Jr.’s birthplace is the go-to in Georgia for Juneteenth festivities, with free events and concerts sprinkled around the area, including an evening with author Dr. Ibram X. Kendi at Agnes Scott College introducting his new children’s book, Goodnight Racism. The Juneteenth Atlanta Parade & Music Festival in Centennial Olympic Park is now in its 10th year, spanning over 300 Black-owned booths, historical reenactments, and two stages. While you’re in the area, stop by the Historic Oakland Cemetery for a self-guided tour, taking you past the resting place of influential icons like Carrie Steele Logan, founder of Atlanta’s first orphanage for African American children, and Maynard Jackson, Atlanta’s first African American mayor.

St. Augustine, Florida

Black history runs deep in St. Augustine, where, in 1738, African Americans established the first legally sanctioned free Black settlement in the US. Now Fort Mose Historic State Park, the site was also one of the original stops on the Southern Underground Railroad, serving as a sanctuary for escaped British slaves. This Juneteenth, St. Augustine will host two free chamber orchestra concerts covering spirituals and works by African American composers: One on June 18 at the St. James Missionary Baptist Church, which dates back to 1898, and the second on June 19at the stately Cathedral Basilica, established in 1793.

You'll find a variety of red food and drink. | Paras Griffin/Getty Images Entertainment

Denver, Colorado

Denver’s Juneteenth celebrations have been happening for 70 years, so you know they know what they’re doing. 30,000 people are expected to descend upon the historically African American Five Points neighborhood for the Juneteenth Music Festival, starting with a concert headlined by Dave East and Twista, then rolling into a full weekend of live music, vendors, food stalls, art murals, and the longest-running parade in Colorado.

Tulsa, Oklahoma

The former home of Black Wall Street throws a free weekend-long Juneteenth Festival each year, stocked with concerts, food, and entertainment along Greenwood Avenue, plus wellness events and interactive art installations. While you’re there, check out Greenwood Rising, a new world-class institution focused on the neighborhood’s powerful legacy and historical impact. Entry to the museum is free.

Don't mess with the Philly parade. | NurPhoto/Getty Images

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The birthplace of democracy has come a long way since their first Juneteenth parade in 2016. Mingle with 25,000 attendees in West Philadelphia on June 19 to see floats, dancers, vendors, and community leaders, followed by a festival in Malcolm X Park. Or head across town to the free block party at the African American Museum in Philadelphia to catch a performance by Talib Kweli and other special guests (including a magician). Elsewhere, Kennett Square is the place to be for the Journeying toward Freedom Festival, which runs June 18 - 19.

Brooklyn, New York

For Juneteenth in New York, Brooklyn is the borough of choice. On June 18, Linden Park in East New York, the site of a long-running celebration, will host performances and food trucks, while the Weeksville Heritage Center breaks out all the red foods for a Juneteenth food festival from June 18 to June 19. On June 19, Prospect Park BRIC will throw the free UNITYFEST concert, co-presented by the Robert Randolph Foundation and featuring Randolph himself alongside Deborah Cox, Mali Music, and others. Over at Brooklyn Bridge Park, Urban Park Rangers will conduct talks about the abolitionist movement in Brooklyn, while the party people behind House of Yes are putting on their own free Unityfest shindig, “under the K bridge.”

Detroit, Michigan

Detroit’s Juneteenth Freedom Fest has all the usual suspects: a huge block party, art installations, and a Jubilee stroll through Black-owned businesses. But they’ve also remembered that Sunday, June 19 doubles as Father’s Day, so included in the festivities is a “Cool Dad Contest.” Think your dad has what it takes? Nominations are now open. Elsewhere, the Juneteenth Jubilee Freedom Weekend at the Charles H. Wright Museum emphasizes the history of the holiday, with documentaries, a concert, and an Underground Railroad treasure hunt hitting five historic sites around Detroit.

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Vanita Salisbury is Thrillist's Senior Travel Writer.