Juneteenth: It’s a Celebration!

A selective guide to holiday events in Manhattan. Yippee!

| 14 Jun 2024 | 03:32

Know this first: Juneteenth is a celebration! This is how the day was born on June 19, 1865— when Union Army General Gordon Granger’s General Order No. 3 informed Texans that all slaves were free— and how it continued both in Texas and places that Black Texans migrated to, especially Los Angeles.

Indeed, while New York was largely ignorant of Juneteenth until just a few years ago, Texans and Angelenos have been delighting in all sorts of picnics, parties and other entertainments for over a century.

Old advertisements and stories in the California Eagle, a Black weekly newspaper from Los Angeles, are telling. Read one 1939 notice: “Juneteenth will be celebrated on Central Avenue all day, with barbecue and dancing in the new and improved gardens at the rear of the Elks’ Temple, 4016 S. Central Avenue... The festivities will begin at nine o’clock in the morning and continue out of doors... until six p.m.”

In June 1952, the Eagle published a column by Civil Rights activist, writer and future NAACP President Roy Wilkins advocating for a Juneteenth holiday.

“Our whole race needs a national day of celebration. Every people here in America has some such day except us,” Wilkins explained. “The Irish take over on St. Patrick’s Day. The Poles, Rumanians, Greeks, Norwegians, Swedes and Italians all have their days. The Chinese make a celebration of their New Year. The Spanish have their fiestas. Only the Negro has no national to commemorate. And of all the people’s he needs one the most. It could a become a powerful instrument for understanding and good will.”

It took seven decades to get there.

Meanwhile, Angelenos weren’t waiting. An exuberant 1963 ad for the Ben-Hur Supper Club, 3101 South Western Ave, exclaims, Black cowboy style, “YIPPEE! IT’S JUNETEENTH TIME!” as it presents John “Texas” Tucker’s Original Juneteenth Party. “Live entertainment and plenty of FREE SOUL FOOD!”

In the spirit of YIPPEE! then, a brief and highly selective Manhattanites guide to Juneteenth 2024:


Downtown, the must attend event for families takes place at ROCKEFELLER PARK IN BATTERY PARK CITY, at Chambers Street and River Terrace. Sponsored by the Battery Park City Authority, there will be stories, food, art making and the snazzily dressed and always gracious New York City Federation of Black Cowboys. In addition to sharing their knowledge about Black western history, they will also offer free pony rides. “We hope to inspire a new generation of cowboys and cowgirls this Juneteenth,” said president Sheryl “Keisha” Morse. YIPPEE!


While not labeled as a Juneteenth event per se, this an opportune date to visit RALPH ELLISON PARK, at Riverside Drive and West 150th Street, where Summer on the Hudson sponsors free weekly community jazz concerts from 2 to 5 PM. In 1965, when Ellison, author of the landmark 1952 novel Invisible Man, published an excerpt to his subsequent novel-in-progress, it was titled “Juneteenth.”


By all means head to Lincoln Center for a free, day-long range of performances assembled under the title “Some Sing: A Juneteenth Celebration” by musician and artist Carl Hancock Rux.

At 1 PM in Central Park, there’s the fifth annual Juneteenth 5K Run / Walk / Roll. Entry fees are by donation, $25 suggested with proceeds going to the building fund of Harlem Center. But pay what can. The most important thing is to participate, and get your body moving. Packet pick up is at Engineers Gate, 90th Street and 5th Avenue, with the finish at West Avenue and 85th Street, which is also within the bounds of Seneca Village, the historic Black settlement displaced by the construction of Central Park.

Take a nap beforehand if needed because the chance to see one of world’s greatest—and most lyrically incisive— rock bands, Living Colour that night at the Hard Rock Cafe, 1501 Broadway, shouldn’t be missed. To state what should be obvious, given that Vernon Reid—Living Colour’s founder and guitarist— was a also co-founder of the Black Rock Coalition, rock music is Black music— and vice versa.

As for Juneteenth, though British-born and Brooklyn-raised, Reid’s Texas connections are both personal and profound: his first major break coming in 1979, when he was invited to join galvanic jazz-fusion drummer—and native Texan— Ronald Shannon Jackson’s band, Decoding Society.

The experience literally changed Reid’s life and the music he made with Jackson and subsequently with Living Colour continues to rock hard and swing mightily —while also teaching listeners about this thing called life. YIPPEE!