This Monday, June 19, Juneteenth will be observed in the United States. The holiday marks the day in 1865 when news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached enslaved people in Texas, nearly two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the decree. More than 250,000 enslaved people were finally freed. In 2021, President Biden declared June 19 a federal holiday.
But it’s worth noting that Juneteenth celebrations have been ongoing for more than 150 years. This year, art organizations across New York City are honoring the day in a variety of formats — from film screenings to dance performances to portrait making. Below, we’ve compiled a list of some of the city’s most exciting and art-filled Juneteenth events, many of them open to the public and free of charge.
Sound, Sun, Pleasure at Abrons Arts Center
Abrons Arts Center and the Henry Street Settlement are hosting a Juneteenth celebration this Saturday in Lower Manhattan. The free day-long festival has something for everyone: live music, plenty of food vendors, an indigo dye workshop, t-shirt painting, a jump rope workshop, a West African drumming and dance performance, a skateboard clinic, and even a magic show. The event features local organizations based in the Lower East Side.
Sound, Sun, Pleasure (abronsartscenter.org)
Sol Lain Playground, 290 East Broadway and Abrons Arts Center’s Amphitheater, 466 Grand Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan
Saturday, June 17, 12–7pm
The Schomburg Center’s Fifth Annual Literary Festival
The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is an outpost of the New York Public Library. Established in 1925, the center comprises a historic research library that also displays artistic and archival exhibitions (currently on view is Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration). In the fifth iteration of its annual literary festival, the Schomburg Center will host a variety of events both in its library and in the neighboring streets of Harlem. This year’s theme is “Literacy is Generational Wealth,” and the celebration will include talks by authors Sarah Ladipo Manyika, Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, and Cynthia Manick, and workshops led by the Harlem Writers Guild and The Moth. The free event will also feature poet Mahogany L. Browne’s Woke Baby Festival for children. Woke Babies is Browne’s curated collection of books for Black children. This weekend’s festival will include readings, music, and crafts.
Schomburg Center Literary Festival (schomburgcenterlitfest.org)
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, 515 Malcolm X Boulevard, and 135th Street from Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard to Malcolm X Boulevard, Harlem, Manhattan
Saturday, June 17, 11am–6pm
Screening of Max Roach: The Drum Also Waltzes (2023)
This Saturday, Rooftop Films will screen Academy Award-nominated Max Roach: The Drum Also Waltzes (2023), which follows the life of the famous drummer and civil rights activist who grew up near Bedford Stuyvesant’s Herbert Von King Park, where the documentary will be shown. Live jazz music and a panel with the filmmakers and Roach’s family will accompany the screening, which is free with an RSVP. The event is part of a year-long celebration of the drummer in honor of what would have been Roach’s 100th birthday on January 10, 2024.
Rooftop Films (rooftopfilms.com)
Herbert Von King Park, 670 Lafayette Avenue, Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn
Saturday, June 17, 7:30–11:30pm
Lewis Latimer House Museum Juneteenth Festival
Lewis Latimer (1848–1928) was a Black inventor born to two formerly enslaved people in Virginia. His namesake house museum in Queens explores Latimer’s contributions to the development of electricity, and it also holds art exhibitions, talks, and workshops. This year, the museum’s free Juneteenth Festival will feature a poetry and digital storytelling clinic, body painting, a drum and dance workshop, and a reiki session geared toward self-care.
Lewis Latimer House Museum (lewislatimerhouse.org)
34-41 137th Street, Flushing, Queens
Saturday, June 17, 1:30–4:30pm
Juneteenth in Seneca Village
Note: This event has been rescheduled to Sunday, June 18 because of weather conditions.
In the 19th century, around 225 people lived in Seneca Village on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Approximately 150 of the town’s residents were Black. Many owned their own homes, a rarity in New York, which outlawed slavery in 1827, two years after Seneca Village was founded. The thriving community, which comprised around 50 houses, three churches, and a school, started in 1825 and lasted until 1857 when the city used eminent domain to force out Seneca Village’s residents in order to build Central Park.
The Central Park Conservancy offers tours of Seneca Village, and this weekend, it will host a free Juneteenth Festival at the community’s former site. This year, the festival is centering on wellness practices and includes a yoga class, a lineup of comedians, and musical performances from Mother Zion Church and jazz group IAMKHEMESTRY. The celebration also features an art workshop in partnership with the Studio Museum in Harlem. Participants can create a cyanotype print using natural materials and sunlight to render the image. Harlem’s Sugar Hill Children’s Museum will also host a workshop, and artist Shanequa Benitez will lead a collaborative art project in which participants will help Benitez literally fill her canvas. The project is based on the hair braiding designs that enslaved used to depict escape routes.
Juneteenth in Seneca Village (centralparknyc.org)
Seneca Village Landscape near Mariner’s Gate at West 85th Street at Central Park West, Upper West Side, Manhattan
Sunday, June 18, 10am–2pm
Juneteenth Jubilee at the Brooklyn Museum
The Brooklyn Museum’s free Juneteenth Jubilee promises a lineup of performances, food, and drinks in addition to its more art-focused events. Visitors can have their portrait taken by the artist collective Souls in Focus in front of backdrops by artist and designer Lamar Bryant, who uses plants and wood to create his vertical garden settings. Visitors can then create their own family portraits on the first floor of the museum. The Renegade Performance Group will perform the Webbed Fugues dance, and ClassicNewWave and DJ 9 will play soul music. Toward the end of the day, curator Kimberli Gant will lead a tour of her show A Movement in Every Direction: Legacies of the Great Migration, on view at the Brooklyn Museum through June 25.
Juneteenth Jubilee (brooklynmuseum.org)
Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn
Sunday, June 18, 2–6pm
Soul of the City: Juneteenth with Queen Esther
The Museum of the City of New York will celebrate Juneteenth this year with a concert by Queen Esther. Tickets cost $15 and include admission to the museum. The Charleston, South Carolina-based musician is a singer and instrumentalist, but she also writes her own music. Queen Esther weaves stories into her lyrics, melding personal tales with historical narratives in an evocation of Southern Black storytelling traditions. She will be introduced by Lana Turner, a fashion icon and Harlem native whose collection of clothing and sense of style made her the subject of photoshoots and magazine articles and turned her into a local legend. Turner co-founded the Harlem-based Literary Society in 1982 and serves as the book discussion group’s chair.
Juneteenth with Queen Esther (mcny.org)
Museum of the City of New York, 1220 Fifth Avenue, Harlem, Manhattan
Saturday, June 17, 2pm