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Juneteenth Celebrations in Arkansas


On June 19, 1865, some 2,000 Union troops landed in Galveston Bay, Texas. Though the Civil War had officially ended on April 9, 1865, news in the outlying Confederate state of Texas was slow to arrive. When the Union forces arrived, they declared the war over. The 250,000 enslaved Black population in the state were free. Juneteenth became the name for the day when the slaves in Texas received word of their freedom.

Library of Congress

Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, as the United States entered its third year of the Civil War. The proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves are, and henceforward shall be free.” Though the proclamation brought hope and joy to thousands of enslaved people, it only declared slaves in states that had seceded from the Union free. States within the Union that still practiced slavery were exempt. Still, it was the beginning of freedom for the nearly 4 million people enslaved in the United States.

The Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” The amendment passed the Senate on April 8, 1864, and didn’t pass the House until January 31, 1865. Even then, it didn’t truly bring freedom until the end of the war. In Texas, those who learned the news of freedom on June 19, 1865, celebrated this day, and each June 19 after, as a second independence day.

Library of Congress

Juneteenth in Arkansas

Though Juneteenth was at first only celebrated within the Black community, the recognition of the date as an important event in U.S. history has grown and many states now officially celebrate Juneteenth. Since 2005, Arkansas has recognized the third Saturday in June as a day to celebrate the end of slavery and to continue to acknowledge the history of slavery in the state and as a way for healing and reconciliation to take place.  This year, Juneteenth falls on its original date in history, June 19, and celebrations will take place across Arkansas.

As of this writing, a bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday has passed the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate and is waiting to be signed into law by President Biden.

Mosaic Templars Cultural Center Juneteenth Celebration

The Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in Little Rock will hold a multi-day celebration this year held mostly virtually and designed creatively to allow for the celebration of this important event. The center will give away 100 family fun bags to celebrate the event. You can call 501-683-3610 or email education@mosaictemplarscenter.com to reserve your bag and pick it up at the center between June 15 to June 19. The center is hosting a Black Business Scavenger Hunt to draw attention to Black businesses in the area. Participants complete the hunt on their own time and send in photos to education@mosaictemplarscenter.com. Everyone completing the scavenger hunt will be entered into a drawing for a $50 gift card from an Arkansas Black Owned Business. Submissions are due by 5 p.m. June 19.

To close out the Juneteenth celebration, the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center will host a series of Facebook Livestream events at 1 p.m. from June 16-19 spotlighting history, stories, achievements and local talents. On the final day, the Livestream will spotlight musicians. Find every Livestream and more about the celebration on the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center Facebook page.

In addition to the celebration, the center has an exhibit on the Green Book through August 1. It is part of the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. The Green Book was a guide for African Americans traveling through the United States in the Jim Crow era and guided many travelers to hotels, motels and other establishments where African Americans could be safe. The Mosaic Templars Cultural Center museum is free and open Tuesday through Saturday with many more exhibits on African American history and culture in Arkansas.

Northwest Arkansas Juneteenth Celebration

This area celebration is organized by the University of Arkansas and the Northwest Arkansas Juneteenth Planning Committee and includes various events in the month of June. There is a scavenger hunt to 13 Black-owned businesses in the area. Find the full list at https://juneteenth.uark.edu/.

Crystal Bridges will host a trio of events to celebrate Juneteenth. On Thursday, June 17, Crystal Bridges will host the Inaugural Arkansas Black Film Showcase from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. On Friday, June 18, the museum hosts Spotlight Talk with Hannibal B. Johnson, a Harvard Law School graduate who has written several books on African American history. June 19 the museum hosts the Forest Concert Series – The Sounds of Freedom featuring DeeDee Jones and Spud Howard.

On June 18 at The Gardens at the University of Arkansas, you can grab a free meal at the Juneteenth Swag Bag and Pop Up Go celebration. The Arkansas Department of Health will also offer a free Covid-19 vaccination clinic. On June 19th another pop-up and swag bag event will be held at the Rogers Farmers Market.

The Northwest Arkansas event culminates on Saturday, June 19, with a virtual celebration of family, community and freedom. Register for this event and find the full schedule at https://juneteenth.uark.edu/.

2021 Juneteenth Nonviolence Youth Summit Delta Financial Literacy Program

The Arkansas Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission will host a celebration at Dumas High School on June 19 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. The event includes a Peace and Unity March at 12:30 p.m., a kids zone, food trucks and a vaccination clinic. Keynote speakers include Selwyn Jones, uncle of the late George Floyd, and Tawanna Gordon, cousin of the late Breonna Taylor. The event will also host financial literacy workshops and includes participation from the communities of Pine Bluff, Monticello, McGehee, Dermott, Dumas and Lake Village.

Find out more at https://arkingdream.org/events.

The Scholars Keeping History Alive Juneteenth Celebration

In Texarkana on June 19, The Scholars will host a Juneteenth celebration that includes cash prizes in various events. The group is a non-profit organization dedicated to spreading knowledge to youth ages 9-16 to broaden their experiences and education in Texarkana. The event begins with a parade at 10 a.m., organized by 12-year-old Scholar Ayden Howard. The parade will proceed down Front Street to downtown Texarkana for the main festival.

Events include a 3-on-3 basketball tournament with cash prizes. There are also spades and dominoes competitions and a sweet potato pie contest. The celebration will also highlight speakers throughout the day and include music, food trucks, bounce houses and other vendors. Join in on all the fun from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. Find out more information and register for the contests at https://www.thescholarstxk.org/.

Other Juneteenth Celebrations around the state:

El Dorado
Fort Smith
Hot Springs
Pine Bluff

This Juneteenth in Arkansas promises to be full of celebration and educational opportunities. Find a celebration near you to enjoy the events and commemorate such an important historic event.

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Kimberly S. Mitchell loves journeys, real or imagined. She has hiked the Inca Trail, walked into Panama on a rickety wooden bridge and once missed the last train of the night in Paris and walked several miles home (with friends). She believes magic can be found in life and books, loves to watch the stars appear, and still dreams of backpacking the world. Now she writes adventures to send her characters on journeys, too. Pen & Quin: International Agents of Intrigue - The Mystery of the Painted Book is her debut novel. Find out more at KSMitchell.com.

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