How to Spend Your Juneteenth in Washington, D.C. 

The only other word spoken during the month of June other than pride is that of Juneteenth. While historically celebrated amongst smaller communities of Black Americans in Texas and branching out to the larger community of the Black American diaspora, Juneteenth is becoming a widely celebrated holiday all across the nation. With its recent declaration as a federal holiday in 2021, Black American communities from Los Angeles and Boston to Florida and Minnesota are celebrating the deeply rooted cultural holiday. 

A History 

While many might view the holiday as something of a newer celebration due to its current-day popularization and mainstreaming, the history of Juneteenth has long been known and celebrated. Originating from the fruits of slavery, Juneteenth fits into the historical narrative of the passing of the 13th Amendment. For decades before 1865, America had been utilizing slavery to produce most if not all of its economic success. Under slavery, Africans taken from their homelands were placed under a harsh system of labor that deemed them not only less than humans and cattle but also property. Property to be bought, sold, and used at their owners’ whim. Now African Americans–or Black Americans–this collective group labored in the fields of the south that produced major fibers like cotton and produce like sugarcane and rice. For years America got rich while Black Americans continued to suffer until the passing of the 13th Amendment.

The Thirteenth Amendment “abolished” slavery on the governmental level allowing many African Americans the legal right to freedom, but due to the integrality of slavery to the American economy and society–as well as the racist structures in place–many African Americans did not know of their newly instated freedom. While many states amongst the union had dissipated slavery, long after the 13th Amendment’s passing, many confederate states still held slave labor. It wouldn’t be until June 19, 1865, when Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, that the enslaved Africans would finally know of their freedom.

Honoring this history and legacy, Juneteenth has become a staple African American holiday to celebrate, especially in Washington D.C. Affectionately known as “Chocolate City,” Washington D.C. holds a high population of African Americans, and with many events, this city offers the perfect place to spend your Juneteenth. 

Museums To Visit 

Home to some of the best-known museums in the nation, D.C. offers the perfect mix of fun and history to experience this Juneteenth. Enjoy art like the Afro Atlantic Histories exhibits at the National Gallery of Art. These exhibits will feature the complex legacies of the African Diaspora and connect the present with the past of the western world since the 13th century. Other museums to note are the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and The National Museum of the American Indian. Long-held as the nation’s best museum for African American history, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture is sure to offer a great place to visit Juneteenth weekend and abroad, as it will feature a plethora of events from cultural craft-making, to storytelling, to special exhibits like the Dr. Martin Luther King original speech. The National Museum of the American Indian serves as a great place to experience the history of those lying at the intersection of American Indian/Indigenous and African with its first-ever exhibit, “Ancestors Know Who We Are,” to feature a Black-Indigenous woman. 

Performances & Events 

Juneteenth isn’t all about learning about the past, it’s also about enjoying the present and modern-day Black American culture. What better way to do so than a good concert. Enjoy the musical artistry of talents like Chole X Halle, 21 Savage, 6 Slack, Bia, and more at the Something In The Water festival June 17th through June 19th. If you’d like a calmer tone, check out Alexandria’s Portside Festival. This festival just outside of D.C. in the DMV area will feature live jazz performances, local vendors and spirits, and artistic offerings like live poetry and performance reading. Want to truly interact with D.C. and get a taste of what Chocolate City is all about, visit the 14th Annual Columbia Heights Day and the Chocolate City Jubilee. The Columbia Heights celebration will host a plethora of small businesses, eateries, and local vendors selling everything from sweet treats to offering discounts to local businesses and stores. The Chocolate City Jubilee is sure to be a great time with free food, water, live performances and featuring beloved go-go music. This serves as a cheaper option thrown by D.C. enthusiasts versus a more expensive Something In The Water Festival. 

Eateries and Restaurants

Looking for great places to enjoy authentic D.C. cuisine and experience the soul of Juneteenth? Well look no further. Great classic restaurants like Busboys and Poets offers a great variety of options from shrimp and grits and fried catfish to a selection of burgers and even vegan options like the vegan lovers pasta. Wanting more down south comfort foods? Check out Oohhs & Aahhs and Milk & Honey Café. Oohhs & Aahhs offers that good ole quality soul food that “big Mama” use to make, but without the hassle of having to help her prepare it. Serving options like BBQ ribs, southern fried chicken, catfish, bayou blackened salmon, yams, potato salad, and more southern classics and favorites. 

If Oohhs & Aahhs is a southern classic then Milk & Honey is its upbeat cousin with the updated twist. Offering things like chicken and waffles, deep-fried salmon hash, lobster grits, and deep-fried strawberry shortcake biscuits, Milk & Honey is sure to be a place you’ll leave full but desperate to come back for more. 

If you’re looking to experience some of that Maryland flare in D.C. then visit Hot N Juicy Crawfish. Just as its name says, the D.C. local favorite serves up all your seafood needs both hot and juicy. With classic favorites like crawfish, shrimp, and crab leg boils as well as fried basket options and po’ boys, Hot N Juicy Crawfish is sure to be any seafood lover’s paradise.

From the music and poetry slams, to the soul food and neighborhood art celebrations, D.C. serves as the perfect place to spend Juneteenth experiencing not only our cultural history, but also the joys of the present-day African American community. This Juneteenth make sure to add Washington, D.C. to your list of places to be to enjoy the culture and be a part of some great and powerful Black Folk Joy.

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