As the summer heats up and the weekend approaches, it’s time for Omaha to celebrate Juneteenth.
Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day or Freedom Day, is the oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. The holiday takes place each year on June 19, marking the day in 1865 when a quarter of a million enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, first learned of their freedom after Union soldiers announced the end to the Civil War.
“Emancipation didn’t happen for everyone overnight,” said Pastor T. Michael Williams, president of the Omaha NAACP, during a virtual lecture hosted by Metro Community College on Tuesday.
The celebrations that broke out in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865 occurred two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Total freedom of enslaved people across the nation wasn’t official until the 13th Amendment passed in December 1865, Williams said.
Although Juneteenth was only recently recognized as a federal holiday by President Joe Biden in 2021, African Americans across the country — and in Omaha — have celebrated the day for more than a century.
Omaha’s first recorded celebration of Juneteenth took place in 1891, when the Sicilian Club hosted Emancipation Day at N. 15th and Capitol Avenue, according to local newspaper records. That first celebration brought African Americans from across Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas together in Omaha for a day of joy celebrated with music performances and fellowship.
“After the horrors of slavery, it would make sense that celebration would happen,” Williams said. “You would celebrate the change that you’ve encountered after the rigors of slavery.”
After COVID-19 put official Juneenth celebrations in Omaha on pause for the past two years, the traditional festivities are now back in full force. This year’s theme is “Legends and Legacy” as its theme, 100 entries in Saturday morning’s Juneteenth Parade will march down N. 24th Street — rather than N. 30th St. — for the first time since 2000, according to Williams.
“We want to tie old North Omaha to new, young North Omaha and try to engage our youth and instill in our youth pride for the community,” Williams said.
While Juneteenth Day isn’t officially until this Sunday, some Omahans have already started the party — and the celebrations continue all weekend long.
Here’s where to take part in Juneteenth in Omaha this weekend:
Friday, June 17 and Saturday, June 18
This two-day event will have your mouth watering. Hosted by Malcolm Tiller, P3 Consulting, LLC and X-Factor BBQ, attendees can get some of the tastiest food North Omaha has to offer. Following food, shop in the marketplace of Omaha-based small businesses. Located in the parking lot of Eagle’s Nest Worship Center, 5775 Sorensen Pkwy., the event will take place on Friday, June 17 from 4 to 9 p.m. and Saturday, June 18th from 12 to 6 p.m.
Saturday, June 18
Drill and dance teams, sororities and fraternities, bands, sports leagues and nonprofits are just a few of the 100 entries ready to march in Saturday morning’s Juneteenth parade hosted by the Omaha NAACP. Starting at 10 a.m., the parade will commence at 24th and Lake Streets and participants will walk north to Sprague Street.
Saturday, June 18
The Omaha Freedom Festival is a family-friendly festival located at Malcolm X Center, 3448 Evans St. From 12 to 5 p.m. Daytime festivities are free and all are welcome to celebrate North Omaha culture, support Black-owned businesses and learn about community resources at this free event hosted by Freedomtainment,
Tickets are required from 7 p.m. to 12 a.m. for those attending the concert featuring Raheem De Vaughn, Tink, Changing Faces an Kut Klose. A map of the festival can be found here. For more information on the festival and to purchase concert tickets, visit the Omaha Freedom Festival website.
Saturday, June 18
The Juneteenth Joy Fest is the first annual Black Arts & Culture Festival curated by Alajia McKizia. Located at Fabric Lab, 2514 N. 24th St., the fest will begin at 12 p.m. and offer food, a Black Flea Market and performances by LaRussell, Lite Pole, Tylynn Music, Edem Soul Music and more. The event is supported by the North Omaha Trail project and The Union for Contemporary Art.
Saturday, June 18
The House of Afros, Capes & Curls, an organization building community based on a shared love of science fiction, fantasy, gaming, and Afrofuturism, will host this event at North Omaha Music & Arts, 2510 N. 24th St. on Saturday, June 18 from 3 to 7 p.m. Guests are invited to enjoy food, tea and retrofuturistic activities including professional portraits, board games, a fandom-themed M**der mystery and more. Steampunk attire is encouraged.
Sunday, June 19
Opera Omaha’s Amplifying the Black Experience is an intimate, afternoon art experience featuring local Black artists and their work through poetry, music, dance and video. From 3 to 5 p.m. at the KANEKO-UNO Library, 1111 Jones St., enjoy performances by local artists including Chabrelle Williams singing poems of Langston Hughes set to music by composer Margaret Bonds.
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