A celebration 157 years in the making

Betsy PickleEast Knox, Our Town Neighbors

On Jan. 1, 1863, in the middle of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation and executive order that legally gave freedom to enslaved people in the states supporting the Confederacy. At that point, 3.5 million people were technically free, though enforcement in many locations was slow to come about, and Union states with slavery weren’t included.

It took nearly two and a half years for that news to spread to Texas, the farthest Confederate outpost of slavery. But on June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Union Army Gen. Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3 to let residents know that the end of slavery was official and that it would be enforced.

The Juneteenth flag

June 19, or Juneteenth, became a day of celebration that would grow in popularity throughout the country. Texas was first to establish it as a state holiday, beginning in 1980. Other states followed suit, and the push for a national recognition began.

On June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden made it an official federal holiday by signing the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law. It was the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created in 1986.

With our uniform holiday system, Juneteenth will be observed nationally this year on Monday, June 20. But celebrations in Knoxville will run Friday-Monday, June 17-20. Many of the happenings will be at the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, 1927 Dandridge Ave. Here’s a list of events:


3-7 p.m. – Juneteenth Community Cookout, Lennon-Seney United Methodist Church, 2084 Dandridge Ave. Free hamburgers, hot dogs and snacks, while supplies last, along with family-friendly activities, inspirational music and speakers.

4 p.m. – Racial Justice Town Hall, Part XXII, Beck Cultural Exchange Center, in person and live-streamed on YouTube, free.


10 a.m. – Juneteenth Emancipation Exhibit unveiling, with the Piano Project of Knoxville. Beck Center lawn.

3-5 p.m. – Juneteenth Open Mic, Zoom. Musicians, poets and spoken-word artists will perform via Zoom. Viewers pick the winner at the end. $5 to view.

6:30 p.m. Saturday, SEEED’s Juneteenth Celebration Block Party, 1617 Dandridge Ave. Poetry and music from local performers, Black vendors, games, free food, headliner DJ Von.


2 p.m. – Juneteenth Father’s Day Freedom Dinner, Beck Center. Live music by Jazzspirations with Brian Clay; dinner buffet by Chef Chris Baylock with Heart & Soul Catering. Tickets $35.

8 p.m. – The ALL White Affair (SOLD OUT), Press Room, 730 N. Broadway. A Juneteenth celebration with dancing and music.


10 a.m. – MLK Juneteenth March/Parade. 8:30 a.m. registration, Midway at Chilhowee Park, 3300 E. Magnolia Ave. 10 a.m. step-off. Parade proceeds west on Martin Luther King Avenue, ending at Dr. Walter E. Hardy Park, 2020 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave.

12-4 p.m. – MLK Juneteenth Celebration, Dr. Walter E. Hardy Park. Remarks by the Rev. Dr. Harold Middlebrook; music by Brian Salesky and the Knoxville Opera and singer Michael Rodgers; presentation by Arteece Slay.

4-7 p.m. – Knoxville NAACP Membership Mixer, open to all, Magnolia Café, 2405 E. Magnolia Ave.

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