On January 1, 1863 enslaved African Americans attended the first ever Night Watch (a Christian night time service) as they gathered in churches and houses awaiting the news of the Emancipation Proclamation, which would free them in Confederate States. At midnight, as the Proclamation took effect, those who were enslaved celebrated their newfound freedom. However, in areas that were still under Confederate control, like Texas, many were not freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. According to the National Museum of African American History & Culture, it wasn’t until two years later on June 19, 1865 that Union troops marched into Texas and proclaimed that all enslaved people were now free by executive decree. Juneteeth is considered America’s second independence day and is referred to as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, and Emancipation Day.
Although Juneteenth has been celebrated in Texas since the 1980s, New Jersey Governor Murphy signed legislation in 2020, making Juneteenth a recognized state and public holiday. He stated that “While more work lies ahead to undo the oppression that remains, Juneteenth is an important marker that reminds us of our mission to create a society that enables our Black communities to achieve the full equality which they deserve.” Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver also added, “Now, Juneteenth will forever be observed and celebrated so that we can collectively reflect upon the indelible mark that slavery has left on our country as we fight for meaningful reforms.” So far, 47 states celebrate Juneteenth and have recognized its importance in American history and in the Black community.
On Wednesday, June 16, The Piscataway Public Library will be hosting the Juneteenth Poetry Jubilee with Rachelle Parker at 7pm. Join award-winning poet Rachelle Parker in celebrating Juneteenth with the Piscataway community. Enjoy select featured poems followed by a brief Q&A moderated by librarian Joy Robinson. The Poetry Jubilee is an evening of poetry that reflects the ways the descendants of enslaved Africans have created belonging, celebrated community, fought against and risen above injustice since they began to live free in this country. Readings include works by classic and contemporary poets such as A. Van Jordan, Afaa Michael Weaver, Ameerah H. Ahmad, Cynthia Manick, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Jacqueline Johnson, Langston Hughes and others. Please click here to register for this virtual program.
The Juneteenth Poetry Jubilee was made possible by a grant from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, a state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the New Jersey Council for the Humanities.
On Saturday June 19 from 11am-6pm, the Juneteenth Arts Festival will take place in Union, NJ. Organized by KB Events & NJ Arts World, come celebrate African-Americans’ contributions to American history, art, and culture! Vendors and performers will be at the event and it is free to the public. You can get free tickets online here and view the details for the event on their Eventbrite website.
Also on Saturday June 19th, there will be a celebration in downtown Metuchen from 11am-4pm. Attendees will be able to enjoy specials throughout businesses, join in with step dancing with SWA (Steppaz With Attitude out of Rahway, NJ Coach Ms. Simone Smith), children’s story time and a special discussion focusing on “Lens on Blacklife” with Dr. Joel Branch with featured artists from Kamoinge Workshop at @Papillon & Company. Click here for more information. https://www.downtownmetuchen.org/event/juneteenth-celebration/
There are also a number of African American history museums in New Jersey to visit. Here are a few to check out:
Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum
189 Hollow Road, Skillman, NJ 08558
The mission of the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum is to tell the story of the unique culture, experiences, and contributions of the African American community of the Sourland Mountain Region. Click here to visit their website. https://www.ssaamuseum.org/contact
African American Heritage Museum
661 Jackson Rd, Newtonville, NJ 08346
The African American Heritage Museum Of Southern New Jersey’s goal is to bring to life the African American experience by documenting the struggle of one group of Americans as they carved out their own place in the wider cultural landscape Click here to visit their website https://www.aahmsnj.org/
Harriet Tubman Museum
632 Lafayette Street, Cape May, NJ, 08204
Harriet Tubman lived in Cape May in the 1850s and the location is “on a block that anti-slavery activists called home in Cape May. Lafayette Street and Franklin Street became a center of abolitionist activity centered around three important buildings developed in 1846.” Click here to visit their website https://www.harriettubmanmuseum.org/