Chester County, once known as a “hotbed of abolitionism,” was the threshold of liberty for Black freedom seekers making their way across the border from Delaware, a slave state, and into Pennsylvania, a free state.
Juneteenth, formerly called Emancipation Day, or Jubilee, marks the day slavery ended in Texas on June 19th, 1865—two years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth has been observed for more than 150 years and commemorates the freedom of enslaved people in United States while also celebrating Black culture and history. In 2019, Governor Tom Wolf declared June 19th of each year as Juneteenth National Freedom Day in Pennsylvania.
Kennett Square, reflecting its central role in this history of emancipation and the Underground Railroad, will host a weekend of Juneteenth events this year. The weekend begins with the return of the popular Town Tours & Village Walks presented by the Kennett Heritage Center on Thursday, June 16th. This free tour, entitled “Founding Families of the African American Community of Kennett Square,” will include a brief demographic history of Kennett, slave ownership, and the free African American community. Participants will see the area where free blacks first settled and hear the stories of Samuel Glasgow and black abolitionist James H. Walker. History comes alive, as do the streets of Kennett Square, as we walk in the footsteps of those who championed the cause of freedom. The tour begins at 5pm at the Genesis Walkway in Kennett Square (to the left of 121 E. State Street). Find more information on this tour, as well as a schedule of other Kennett Heritage Center events through the weekend, here.
Voices Underground, in partnership with PA Tourism, is hosting its second annual “Journeying Toward Freedom” festival from June 17–19. The festival will include two ticketed events and a free, family-friendly festival at The Creamery.
On Friday, June 17th, ‘An Evening with Dr. Eddie Glaude Jr.’ at Longwood Gardens will include a musical performance from jazz drummer and composer artist Kendrick Scott and a conversation with Dr. Eddie Glaude Jr., Distinguished University Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, about the urgent necessity of continuing the freedom work of Juneteenth.
In his writing, teaching, and political commentary Glaude examines the complex dynamics of the American experience. In the tradition of James Baldwin and Ralph Waldo Emerson, Glaude confronts history and brings our nation’s complexities, vulnerabilities, and hope into full view. That hope is, in one of his favorite quotes from W.E.B. Du Bois, “not hopeless, but a bit unhopeful.” Glaude is the author of New York Times bestseller Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and its Urgent Lessons for Today. Tickets for this event, which will be held at Longwood Gardens from 6–8pm, are $25. For those who wish to stay, the evening will conclude with a Freedom Illuminated Fountain Performance at 9:15pm.
On Saturday, June 18th, at 11am at Anson B. Nixon Park, The Juneteenth Poetry Slam will feature hip hop icon Roxanne Shante and local student Isabella Hanson, founder of the international “I Matter” poetry contest and winner of the 2022 Princeton Prize. Guests will enjoy inspirational poetry, music, family fun, and more. The event is free and open to the public.
Also on Saturday, The Creamery of Kennett Square will host a Juneteenth Festival from 12–8 pm. The festival is free and will feature a variety of vendors, vibrant music, and food. Musicians at the festival include Linda Harris, of We Walk with Harriet, performing old standards, original music, and code songs with her band at 4pm. Tickets for tastings from African American breweries, available from 6–8pm, are $20.
The celebration will conclude on Sunday, June 19th with a ticketed event at Lincoln University from 5–9 pm celebrating the bounties of freedom and the hope of reconciliation. Freedom’s Table: A Dinner of Friendship with author and soul food scholar Adrian Miller, includes a family-style barbecue dinner hosted by Altar Call Barbecue. Miller is the author of Black Smoke: African Americans and the United States of Barbecue, The President’s Kitchen Cabinet: The Story of the African Americans who have Fed our First Families from the Washingtons to the Obamas, and Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine. Tickets for this event are $100.
“Journeying Toward Freedom” aims to celebrate the local Black community while inspiring its current leaders and the next generation of changemakers to get involved in the fight for equality for all. “The racial healing we are seeking is only going to come as we recover the true stories of our nation’s history, making them known and celebrating them,” say Gregory Thompson and Alex Parham, executive directors of Voices Underground, a project under the umbrella of Square Roots Collective whose mission is to inspire racial healing through storytelling.
“Freedom is a complex and multi-faceted construct that requires efforts at many levels and on many fronts,” says Parham. Freedom comes at a cost and requires community and engagement, Parham says, “Because none of us is free until all of us are free.” In that sense, Juneteenth celebrates not the achievement of that freedom but the forward progress of that journey.