The History of Juneteenth in Washington, DC

Diverse Voices: A Juneteenth Celebration 2023

Washington Revels and the Glen Echo Park Partnership for Arts and Culture are co-presenting a weeklong festival commemorating this Juneteenth holiday. The festival runs from June 17 to 25 and features live events every day!

Learn more about Diverse Voices

Juneteenth, a day commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans, is now a cherished celebration of Black history and freedom. In the matter of slavery in Washington, DC, the District was central to the domestic slave trade in the early 19th century but successfully banned the ownership and sale of slaves on April 16, 1862. From then on it celebrated Emancipation Day each year and since 2021, officially recognizes Juneteenth as a second day to honor the resilience of the Black community.

The Origins of Juneteenth in Washington, DC

The story of Juneteenth in Washington, DC begins with President Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. While this proclamation declared the freedom of enslaved people in Confederate-held territories, it took time for the news to reach all corners of the country. It wasn’t until June 19, 1865, that Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced the end of slavery, effectively liberating the last remaining enslaved African Americans in the United States. Over the years, June 19th came to be known as Juneteenth and became a significant day of remembrance and celebration.

Early Celebrations and a Timeline of Juneteenth in DC

Solidarity Day 1968 - Poor People's March

Tens of thousands of demonstrators support the Poor People’s Campaign in the climatic Solidarity Day march down the National Mall to the Lincoln Memorial. Many marchers wade in the Reflecting Pool. The Washington Monument is visible in the background. DC Public Library, People’s Archive, Washington Star Photograph Collection.

As freed Americans began migrating from Texas to other parts of the country following their emancipation, Juneteenth’s history and traditions went slowly with them. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement played a big role in elevating Juneteenth’s prominence in Washington when the grassroots Poor People’s Campaign, originally led by Martin Luther King, Jr., held a Solidarity Day Rally on June 19, 1968. The rally brought 50,000 people together at the Lincoln Memorial to sing, pray, and hear speakers including Coretta Scott King and Rev. Ralph Abernathy. Twenty-one years later in 1989, the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum held its first Juneteenth celebration featuring puppet shows, arts and crafts, food, and live music. In 2003, Washington, DC passed legislation to make Juneteenth a District holiday, and in 2017, activist Opal Lee (considered the “Grandmother of Juneteenth”) completed her walk from Fort Worth, Texas, to Washington, DC in advocacy of a federal Juneteenth holiday. In 2021 when President Joe Biden signed legislation fulfilling Lee’s vision, Lee was an honored guest at the bill signing ceremony.

Modern-day Juneteenth Celebrations in DC

In recent years, the greater community’s interest in Juneteenth has grown exponentially, leading to an increase in ways to celebrate: parades, concerts, runs, historical reenactments, educational programs, and festivals are all available to DMV residents. In Glen Echo, Maryland, the Glen Echo Park Partnership for Arts & Culture and Washington Revels have partnered to co-present Diverse Voices: A Juneteenth Celebration. This festive week of live music, creative conversation, community gatherings, and arts activities commemorates the end of slavery in America and highlights local African American history. With a week of free in-person and virtual events, an option is available for everyone to celebrate Juneteenth, a powerful new symbol of hope for our community.

To join the DMV’s first regional Juneteenth festival, Diverse Voices: A Juneteenth Celebration, visit for a full list of in-person and virtual events.
Co-presented by
Washington Revels: Celebrating 40 Years
Glen Echo Park Partnership for Arts and Culture
With program partners
Carpe Diem Arts
Montgomery History