It is known as “America's Second Independence Day.” Yet there is no battle marking that day. No birthday of a new nation. Not even an anniversary of a document. Rather Juneteenth, the commemoration of freedom from slavery, commemorates June 19, 1865 - the date federal troops arrived in Galveston, TX to enforce Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and free the last Americans held in captivity.
In many ways, Juneteenth is America's genuine Independence Day, because it marks the date that the promise of freedom for all was first realized across the United States.
Here are several ways you can mark this important date in American history – and also help support the legacy of Black Americans and the equality movement pushing forward across the nation today.
Learn from our past to understand our present
Fairfax County and the surrounding national capital region offer many sites and attractions that help tell the story of the struggles, sacrifices, and vital contributions that African Americans have made throughout our history. Take some time to learn about these places through online tours, educational materials, or an in-person visit (check operational hours before visiting). A few under-the-radar spots include:
Gum Springs is a small town, established in 1833 by West Ford, which became a haven for those formerly enslaved, including both freedmen and runaways. The town continued to thrive and is one of the oldest African American communities in the United States. Today, a small museum and cultural center located in the Mount Vernon area of Fairfax County tells these stories and more. Read more about the Gum Springs story here.
Laurel Grove School
Laurel Grove, a former African American schoolhouse, tells the unique story of a community’s refusal to narrow its ambitions. This site, now the last remaining African American school in the region, serves as a "living museum" and is typically open by appointment only, but you can learn more about it here.
Tinner Hill, in Falls Church, is recognized as the location where the first rural branch of the NAACP was initiated in the United States. Visit a 15-foot monument that honors those who made this a reality, and nearby, explore the Tinner Hill Historic Park and Zig Zag Monument, a sculpture that follows the original location of the segregation line. The Tinner Hill story is a fascinating one to understand - learn a little more about it here.
Historic Pleasant Grove Church
Image courtesy Friends of Pleasant Grove
This community landmark and historic church was built in 1895 by and for African and Native Americans. On-site, you can also visit the Frances K. Moore Memorial Museum, named for a descendant of the church founders. It features a unique collection of late 19th and 20th-century household furnishings, tools, photographs, and memorabilia.
There are many more sites, museums, memorials, and monuments in and around Fairfax County, like the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Or, learn about Sully Historic Site's interesting ties to the Underground Railroad. Be sure to bookmark our guide to these and more African American experiences.
Support black-owned businesses
There are hundreds upon hundreds of restaurants in Fairfax County, but if you want to support local, black-owned eateries, there are many cuisine options to choose from as well. Grab a taste of the islands at Caribbean Plate in Falls Church, treat yourself to a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony at Enatye Ethiopian Cuisine in Herndon, find comfort in delicious southern home cooking at Della J’s Delectables in Springfield, or take home a mouth-watering pie from Pie Gourmet in Vienna.
For an evolving list of black-owned restaurants in Fairfax County, click here. Do you know of a spot that should be added? Let us know in the comments.
Attend Local Celebrations
Photo courtesy Mclean Community Center
Explore other in-person events to celebrate and help grow your understanding and knowledge of the African American experience in America.
For family activities, don't miss Frying Pan Farm Park's Juneteenth celebration, which will celebrate African American stories, food traditions, music, and contributions to American spiritual life. Activities will include a special guest storyteller, live music, crafts, history, and food trucks offering African American cuisine.
Music lovers, enjoy a special Juneteenth commemoration at Wolf Trap with Thee Phantom and the Illharmonic Orchestra. Describing themselves as "part B-Boy, part Beethoven," the all African-American orchestra combines the energy and passion of hip-hop, with the beautiful, sweeping sounds of a live orchestra.
At Great Falls Park, watch a free screening of the Summer of Soul documentary about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, directed by Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson in his directorial debut. The Sundance Festival award-winner is a joyful film displaying nostalgic live music footage that's remained largely unseen for nearly a century.
Visit Bull Run Regional Park to attend a ceremony to honor the history of an African American cemetery located at the park. These stories include Robert Carter III’s emancipation of 500 enslaved people in the 1790s and the freed community at this site. A Juneteenth Picnic that will follow the commemoration.
Be sure to keep tabs on our event calendar for more Juneteenth programming, like a symphony concert and a garden celebration!
Header image courtesy of Patrick Lyon of Lyon Photography. Help spread the love by visiting the new Virginia LOVEwork sign at the Workhouse Arts Center, which was recently transformed by resident Workhouse artist, Marly Mcfly. Share your LOVEwork pics with us using #FXVA, #LoveVA and @VisitFairfax.