Juneteenth: Where history and culture come alive


Established as a national holiday two years ago, Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, the day when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, learned that they were free in a state that was one of the last Confederate outposts. News of their freedom came more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

While Juneteenth is celebrated all over the city and nation, it is especially meaningful right here in Northwest Philadelphia. In the 1800s, the Johnson family, who lived in Germantown, offered their home as a station on the Underground Railroad. A family of Quakers who believed in nonviolence, they provided sanctuary, food, clothing, and transportation to untold numbers of enslaved Africans. In 1997, the family’s home at 6306 Germantown Avenue was dedicated as a National Historic Landmark. So, it is fitting that the Historic Johnson House will again be the focal point of Juneteenth festivities in our community. “It’s a celebration of what the Historic Johnson House stands for,”  said its executive director Cornelia Swinton. 

Equally excited about this year’s Juneteenth celebrations is Germantown resident Sharmain Matlock-Turner, CEO of the Urban Affairs Coalition who was just inducted into the Historic Germantown Hall of Fame for her efforts to improve the quality of life in our region. 

“I think back on all the work done by Opal Lee, the Grandmother of Juneteenth,” Matlock-Turner said, “Opal, who is 96 years old now, walked all over the country to bring attention to the importance of making Juneteenth an official national holiday. She accomplished her goal!”

Matlock-Turner also credits Ron Brown, CEO of the Pennsylvania Juneteenth Coalition. “He has made sure there are more celebrations and that an end to slavery is something we should all feel good about as we continue to fight for equity and inclusion,” she said. When asked how many of Philadelphia’s Juneteenth events she will attend, Matlock-Turner said, “All of them!”

The following is a selected list of cultural and educational Juneteenth events in NW Philadelphia and beyond:

Juneteenth Photography Exhibition, June 13

The Germantown Historical Society, 5501 Germantown Avenue, presents an exhibition of Juneteenth photography, from June 13 thru the Fall. Tuesdays, 9 a.m. - 1 p.m.; Thursdays, 1. to 5 p.m.  Sunday hours by appointment. 

African Dance Workshop, June 16

DanceFit, at 99 Bethlehem Pike in Chestnut Hill, will host an African Dance Workshop led by instructor Avalon with music by drummer Saantis. Traditional lapas (wrap skirts worn for African dance) will be provided. $40. 7 to 9 p.m. Visit dancefitex.com for information.

Awbury Juneteenth Dinner, June 22

Join Chef Gail Jones-Hinson for a joyous evening featuring cuisine inspired by cooks of the Reconstruction Era. Guests will enjoy a buffet-style dinner on the tented pavilion of Awbury’s Francis Cope House with live performances from spoken word artists, poets, and musicians.

Entertainers include vocalists Sabrina Cuie and Osiris Wildfire, plus jazz saxophonist Mervin Toussaint  Menu highlights include Mint Juleps, Fire Roasted Mixed Grill, Sweet Potato Pudding, Corn Souffle, Mango Lime Coconut Cake and Blackberry Cobbler. For reservations, call 215-849-2855. Awbury Arboretum, One Awbury Road in Germantown. 6 to 9 p.m.

Woodmere Art Museum Juneteenth Celebration – June 17

In Chestnut Hill, where the Woodmere Art Museum is commemorating Juneteenth with a celebration of African American artist Jerry Pinkney, a Philadelphia native and world-famous children's book illustrator, executive director Bill Valerio said “Woodmere is honored” to highlight the artist on this particular day. 

“He inspired us all with the beauty of his work and deep appreciation of the complexities of American history,"  Valerio said. “His recently-published, posthumous “Just Jerry: How Drawing Shaped My Life tells the story of his childhood in Germantown and his journey toward the freedom to express himself in art. It is especially timely – a book that describes the challenges he faced growing up with dyslexia and the context of segregation in Philadelphia." 

In this family program, Gloria Pinkney, Jerry’s wife, will read a short selection from the artist's memoir. Pinkney’s books will be available for purchase, and Gloria Pinkney will be there to sign them. Another special tribute will be a showing of the movie “Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman” and a musical presentation by Arpeggio Jazz Ensemble. 4 to 5:15 p.m. Free. To register, contact: amonroe@woodmereartmuseum.org

Annual Philadelphia Juneteenth Parade & Festival, June 17

The Historic Johnson House will host a joyful outdoor street festival on the 6300 block of Germantown Avenue. The event educates the community while shining a light on the anti-slavery and abolitionist movements of yesterday and today. All ages are invited to engage in a host of family-focused activities designed to bring history to life, including African drumming, a Children’s Village, historical re-enactments, a historical and cultural marketplace, tours, resource information, food trucks, music, artistic performances, panel discussions, and more. noon to 7 p.m. (No rain date)

Philadelphia Juneteenth Wine & Arts Festival, June 17

The Women's Coalition for Empowerment, Inc. in partnership with the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, presents the 1st Philadelphia Juneteenth Wine & Arts Festival. This cultural event celebrates Juneteenth and Black culture through wine tastings from local Black-owned wineries, art exhibits, live music performances, and more. Cherry Street Pier 121 N. Columbus Blvd. 1 to 6 p.m.

Liberation Rising: Juneteenth Block Party  – June 19

The African American Museum, 701 Arch St., presents a daylong, outdoor festival featuring live performances from international and local artists, Hip Hop DJs, a community marketplace featuring Black-owned businesses, vendors, food trucks, and hands-on activities including art-making and line dancing. Free admission to the Museum with online registration at aampmuseum.org. 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Juneteenth Celebration: Sounds of Freedom! - June 22

The Parkway Central Library, 1901 Vine St., presents an evening of rhythms, stories, poetry, dance, crafts and live music. This free program will also highlight the Summer Solstice, Pride and Black Music Month. 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.