Illinois' newest state holiday is a 158-year-old celebration of freedom. Although Juneteenth has been celebrated in Springfield for over 20 years, it did not become an official state holiday until 2021 when Gov. JB Pritzker signed a bill to commemorate June 19, 1865, the date when the last enslaved Black people in the U.S. learned that they were free. It is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States, and early celebrations of the event were mostly church-centered community gatherings. Today, it is celebrated in most cities and many smaller communities with food festivals, park parties and historical reenactments. Here in Springfield, this week is packed with events that highlight African American cultural contributions with live music events, art exhibitions, presentations and just plain fun stuff to do.
The organization Juneteenth, Inc. has again planned an entertainment-filled celebration that involves different locations over several days. The holiday weekend begins when Saint Boogie Brass Band hits the stage on the Y Block on Thursday, June 15, at 6 p.m., as part of the Levitt AMP Springfield Music Series. This St. Louis-based band brings its signature sounds of soul, hip-hop, pop, jazz, blues and funk, and adds a punch of powerful brass to the mix, then tops it all off with some traditional New Orleans tunes. They describe themselves as a funky brass band with a Midwest swing.
Head to the Illinois State Museum on Friday, June 16, for the Juneteenth Celebration Freeish Block Party happening right outside on Edwards Street from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Celebrate Juneteenth there with food, music and opportunities to speak with reps from Black-owned businesses. "NOIR 3" will be on display, an exhibition of art by people of color that depicts the migration of Black Americans, provoking viewers to think and talk about what freedom looks like for people of color in the U.S.
Kids can join in the holiday activities at the block party, too. They can learn about standing up for what is important to them while drawing a self-portrait or craft a button that expresses something about which they feel passionate.
The celebration continues on Saturday with the Juneteenth Celebration Unity Parade, which begins at 10 a.m. at Brown Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, and heads north to Comer Cox Park where the festivities will be hitting their stride. Expect to find over 20 vendors at this festival along with food trucks, a talent show, dance troupes, an art show and a full day of celebration fun. The Springfield Municipal Band opens the celebration at 11 a.m., and live music will continue throughout the day with a lineup of hot local bands. Kids will have plenty of activities to enjoy, including a bounce house. Later in the evening, grab a blanket or some lawn chairs to watch a free showing of Respect, a biopic about The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. The showing is part of Springfield Park District's Movies in the Park series.
The festival in the park will spill over into Sunday beginning with Fitness in the Park at 9 a.m., followed by church services by Love Deliverance Evangelistic Church at 10 a.m. and Abundant Faith Christian Center at 11 a.m. Live music will begin at 2 p.m. and will carry you through to the end of the day.
Juneteenth, Inc.'s celebratory weekend wraps up on Monday, June 19, at the inaugural Future Leaders Juneteenth Breakfast hosted by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. Tickets for the breakfast are available on EventBrite.
Lincoln Home National Historic Site is celebrating the holiday this year with an outdoor exhibit and education program about Jameson and Elizabeth Jenkins, free Black Americans who came to Springfield in the 1840s and lived in a house on Eighth Street in Abraham Lincoln's neighborhood. The exhibit includes artifacts from archaeological excavations at the couple's former home site and interpretive panels that tell the history of the Juneteenth celebration and the story of the Jenkinses, including Jameson Jenkins' involvement with a group of people traveling the Underground Railroad in their search for freedom. Call the historic site at 217-492-4241 the learn the exhibit's opening times.
On Saturday, the Springfield and Central Illinois African American History Museum (AAHM) will host History Comes Alive: A Juneteenth Celebration presentation at 1:30 p.m. AAHM board member Aaron Pearl-Cropp will discuss the history behind the Juneteenth holiday, beginning with the arrival of the first Africans in Virginia in 1619.
Lincoln Land Community College will observe the holiday on June 19 at 8:30 a.m. with a Juneteenth Freedom Walk and the public is invited to participate. The walk will begin at the flag poles outside of A. Lincoln Commons and continue for a little over a mile around the campus, and include tributes to the events leading to Juneteenth. Enjoy a light continental breakfast afterward. Feel free to wear the colors that represent the holiday – red, green, gold or black for this commemorative walk.
It's exciting to see interest in this new holiday grow as more organizations get involved to help us observe it. Juneteenth has a lot going for it in Springfield this year. Get out there and celebrate.