Juneteenth: Celebrating Freedom

Written by Erin Michel, Graduate Assistant for the Graduate School

Juneteenth has been celebrated for centuries, but only in recent years has this holiday finally been getting the widespread recognition it truly deserves. In fact, this important anniversary was only officially recognized as a federal national holiday in 2021, and local institutions such as UC and the Cincinnati Public School system have begun to recognize it for the first time this year in 2022. Because of the recency of this widespread visibility, some people may still be unaware of the cultural and historical significance of the Juneteenth holiday. Read on to learn more about Juneteenth, and how you can observe this important anniversary in Cincinnati through parades, festivals, museum events, and more. 

A red, white, and black flag reading "Juneteenth"

What is Juneteenth? 

Many people believe that slavery ended with Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Unfortunately, change can take time to enforce, even when that change is related to fundamental human rights. The Confederate Army officially surrendered in April of 1865, officially ending the Civil War, but it was not until about two months later that the news of emancipation spread to every corner of the country. Juneteenth marks the anniversary of the day in 1865 (two months after the war ended) when Union general Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas and announced that all enslaved peoples were freed, marking the official implementation of the Emancipation Proclamation in every state. 

Juneteenth has been celebrated by Black communities ever since that day in 1865, but the holiday has grown in widespread popularity with recent racial justice movements such as Black Lives Matter. Generally, food, dance, and music are integral elements of the celebration, and many cities (including Cincinnati!) have instituted large scale parades and formal celebrations to mark this important event. To learn more about the roots of Juneteenth and its place in today’s sociopolitical context, check out this Juneteenth podcast episode of The Daily.  

Juneteenth in Cincinnati

Cincinnati is a city with its own history of racial injustice as well as continued disparities between Black and White residents. This history and contemporary context makes Juneteenth all the more important to observe for Cincinnatians of all racial identities and backgrounds. It is more than a day off work or school; Juneteenth is a chance to reflect on the racial injustice in this city and country and celebrate and honor the freedom of our Black community members. 

Juneteenth Cincinnati is a nonprofit organization that has been organizing and publicizing Juneteenth events in this city for decades, beginning with the first Juneteenth Festival in 1988. While the festival is the only longstanding annual event thus far, Juneteenth Cincinnati partners with many local businesses and stakeholders every year to offer a range of other programming in honor of the holiday.  

Juneteenth Events List

  • June 12: Wade in the Water

    According to Juneteenth Cincinnati, water is an important symbol within African American spirituality and history of enslavement. The Ohio River in particular marked a dividing line between enslavement and freedom for many years prior to the abolition of slavery. Wear all white and join celebrants at Smale Riverfront Park at 2 PM to dance along the river, or join virtually by submitting a dance video (instructions here). 

  • June 15: Black Family Picnic and Movie in the Park

    On June 15 from 6-10 PM, local nonprofit Queen’s Village will host a free screening of “Crooklyn” and picnic event in Washington Park for Black families in honor of Juneteenth. The first 40 families to register will receive a free picnic blanket and a free dinner for the whole family. 

  • June 18: Juneteenth Craft Fest at Esoteric Brewing

    Esoteric, one of Cincinnati’s only Black-owned breweries, will be hosting a market featuring Black-owned vendors and entrepreneurs. The event, which runs from 2-7 PM, will feature food trucks, craft beer, live music, DJs, and kids' activities. 

  • June 18: Juneteenth Festival in Eden Park

    This festival will include shopping, art, food, two stages of live music, historical reenactors, and free non-invasive health screenings. The festival will run from 12-9 PM in Eden Park. 

  • June 18: Findlay Market Black is Excellence Panel Discussion

    Findlay Market will kick off their Juneteenth celebration from 12-1 PM on June 18 with a panel discussion featuring prominent Black community leaders such as city council member Paul Booth and Tim Barr from Cincinnati Young Black Professionals. Panelists will discuss perspectives on the historical significance and modern importance of the Juneteenth holiday. 

  • Support Black-Owned Businesses

    A wonderful way to honor Juneteenth and support Black Cincinnatians at any time of year is to financially support Black-owned businesses. The Voice of Black Cincinnati has a comprehensive directory of local Black-owned businesses, and users can filter and search by category; listings include anything from restaurants to photography/videography services to construction and home improvement.