The first annual Chapel Hill-Carrboro Juneteenth celebration is set to take place on June 18 and 19.
The event is a joint effort between the two towns and local organizations, such as the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Office of Equity and Inclusion, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP and the Marian Cheek Jackson Center for Saving and Making History, to celebrate Black community and culture.
Juneteenth — a portmanteau of June 19 — commemorates the end to slavery in the United States. Though the Emancipation Proclamation was issued on Jan. 1, 1863, the practice of slavery was not officially abolished until the summer of 1895. The holiday originated in Texas following the end of the Civil War and came to be celebrated with music, art, food and other activities.
The Chapel Hill-Carrboro celebration this year will feature both virtual and in-person events over the course of the two days.
“We're kicking off the event on Friday, June 18 with a virtual welcome video,” Melissa Bartoletta, the marketing and communications coordinator for the Town of Chapel Hill’s Community Arts and Culture division, said.
Friday’s virtual events will showcase Durham-based country music singer Rissi Palmer, poets laureate CJ Suitt and Fred Joiner, and Pulitzer-Prize winning author Annette Gordon-Reed.
“The rest of the weekend is kind of like a choose your own adventure,” Bartoletta said.
All weekend long, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP is initiating the Buy Black campaign, Bartoletta said, which will involve a scavenger-hunt-style contest that encourages community members to eat and shop at local Black-owned businesses.
The largest in-person event is the motorcade on Saturday, June 19 at 4 p.m., which features two routes that wind through historic Black neighborhoods. Community members are encouraged to decorate their vehicles and drive or cheer on the cars.
Saturday will also feature a host of musical performances from Triangle-based artists. Local artists such as SunQueen Kelcey, Lydia Salett Dudley, Kevin “Kaze” Thomas and Souls of Joy will perform virtually and in-person, and performances will also take place on Franklin Street that night as part of Downtown Chapel Hill's Save The Music Series.
“I want people to feel good vibes but at the same time possibly have some element of education to it," Thomas said. "I have a song called 'Wake Up' that's dedicated to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice — I name a lot of names.”
Though this is the first time Juneteenth will be held on a large scale in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, there already is hope that the celebrations will continue to flourish in the coming years.
“We have a lot of great African American businesses, talented musicians and local historians within our community,” Charles Harrington, the recreation administer for the Town of Carrboro, said.
Thomas said he was very flattered that the Town asked him to perform at the festival. The celebration puts a well-deserved spotlight on Chapel Hill and Carrboro’s Black community.
“I might not be J. Cole or Kanye or anybody like that, but that they felt that I was relevant to our community and that my music was relevant to Juneteenth meant a lot," Thomas said.
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