celebrate freedom

Austin celebrates first Juneteenth as official city holiday with parade, live music, and more

Austin celebrates first Juneteenth as official city holiday

Juneteenth festival
Celebrate Juneteenth in Austin.  Black Austin Coalition/Facebook

So many holidays feel like the distant past, but Juneteenth is one of our newest, both in spirit and in Austin’s official books.

On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers arrived in Galveston with long overdue news: Enslaved people in rebel states are, and henceforward shall be free. This oral declaration came two years and six and a half months after the Emancipation Proclamation was officially signed.

Celebrations began immediately, but the first official Juneteenth started the next year. In 2020, all those years later, the Austin City Council voted to adopt Juneteenth as an official city holiday. (The U.S. Congress just passed legislation this week to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.) In the same Austin City Council session, members passed a resolution by council member Natasha Harper-Madison to declare racism a public health crisis.

This Juneteenth, seven organizations are teaming up for a free 12-hour celebration and day of reflection, Juneteenth 2021: Stay Black and Live Vol. 2. Six Square, Austin’s state-designated Black cultural district, which is the only one of its kind in the state of Texas, and African American history preserver the Carver Museum are heading up the bulk of the day’s events. They’re joined by Black Austin Coalition, Jump On It, the Austin Area Urban League, Austin Justice Coalition, and GEAYA.

GEAYA and the Austin Area Urban League are getting things started at 10 am on Saturday, June 19 with a car parade, following the 2020 route mostly down Chicon Street from the Oakwood Cemetery to Rosewood Park. The end location was originally purchased in 1905 by the Negro Park Association and named Emancipation Park, which was in turn seized by the city and turned into the country’s first federal housing project for African Americans. There, Six Square and the Carver Museum will provide a free lunch served by the 10,000 Fearless First Responders.

A live stream presented by the two organizations will follow, starting with a panel discussion moderated by the Carver’s Carre Adams about the holiday’s history with speakers Lisa B. Thompson and Charles Daniel Carson from the African and African American studies department at the University of Texas.

Then DJ Nook will take over with entertainers Freedom Desk for music and spoken-word performances. Freedom Desk features award-winning husband-and-wife hip-hop duo Riders Against the Storm, blithely confrontational lesbian rapper Mama Duke, and introspective first-generation Ethiopian-American R&B singer Mélat.

A raffle benefiting Six Square will offer two local prizes: a year of free Amy’s Ice Creams and an hour-long facial by Elemint Skin Studio. Other prizes come from Fitbit, Lush, and Ninja. Raffle tickets start at 10 tickets for $10, and are available up to two hours in advance of the 5 pm drawing.

The events wrap up with a five-hour after-party in the park, hosted by Jump On It and the Black Austin Coalition. There will be live entertainment with DJ sets and surprise guests, and a food and retail market, plus flag football, kickball, and water games. Finally, the Black Leaders Collective brings a closing fireworks show.

This Juneteenth celebration is a comeback from last year’s more limited pre-vax events. Visit Eventbrite to pick up free tickets, and budget for extra goodies from local businesses. Those who can’t make it can stream the celebration live on Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, and Twitch.