Juneteenth celebrations in the 405.
On Jan. 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, signaling the end of slavery in the U.S. However, freedom was not instantaneous for many African Americans living in Confederate-controlled states. On June 19, 1865, Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, and freed over 250,000 enslaved people. Those emancipated in Texas referred to the day as Juneteenth.
Known as the second Independence Day, Jubilee and Emancipation Day, June 19 is a time to reflect and celebrate African American history and culture. Juneteenth has been widely recognized by African American communities for decades, but only over the past few years are more Americans growing familiar with the day, which became a federal holiday in 2021.
Juneteenth celebrations often include parades, art displays, food and an array of cultural performances, including traditional African American music such as gospel, blues and jazz, as well as dance and theater. In some community celebrations, there are reenactments of historical events, such as the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation or the arrival of Union soldiers in Texas.
Oklahoma visitors and residents can take part in several Juneteenth celebrations around OKC and throughout the state this June. Each celebration is a unique community-based experience, with Juneteenth on the East and Norman’s Juneteenth Festival being among the area’s most notable.
“It’s a celebration for the community, put on by the community,” said Juneteenth on the East organizer Jabee Williams. “We honor community leaders and give local artists and businesses an opportunity to be part of the celebration.”
Juneteenth festivities are synonymous with freedom, resiliency, community and the potential for good things to come. It is not merely a singular historical event, but an opportunity to share stories, learn and grow. It is a celebration of heritage and equality.
“I’ve celebrated Juneteenth my entire life,” Jabee said. “My family would celebrate, or we would go to community events. However, Juneteenth represents liberation, and Juneteenth on the East is a celebration for all people to come together and peacefully rejoice in freedom, exchange in culture and uplift the community.”
Juneteenth on the East will feature local small businesses that make up the backbone of the Eastside community, as well as live music, a 5K race, interactive murals, dance performances, food trucks, educational tents and vendors.
Norman also hosts an annual Juneteenth celebration. “Our festival is unique because it is planned and operated by a resident committee of stakeholders who do their best to ensure that the festival is a welcoming educational event highlighting Norman’s African American history, as well as the history of Juneteenth,” said Veronica Tracy, recreation manager for the City of Norman. “The celebration is full of entertainment, good food and family activities culminating in a huge fireworks show over Reaves Park.”
This year, Norman’s Juneteenth festival opens with a welcome message from Dr. George Henderson, the first African American in Oklahoma to hold an endowed professorship.
“Dr. Henderson is an author and activist and set in motion many cultural and institutional changes that continue to this day,” Tracy said. “His story reminds the community of the sacrifices made by some of their ancestors to be able to celebrate such a day, and the progress still needed and being made to combat racial inequity in Norman and Oklahoma at large. This year is Norman’s fourth Juneteenth celebration, and our Juneteenth celebration aims to celebrate and honor Norman’s Black history in the community with one another.”
Experience Juneteenth on the East from June 16-17 and Norman’s Juneteenth Festival on June 17. Visit withloveokc.org to learn more about Juneteenth on the East and being a volunteer, vendor or performing artist. You can also learn more about African American history in Norman at normanok.gov/about-norman/inclusive-community/african-americans.