By Erin William and Grace Kertz

Named a federal holiday in 2020, Juneteenth celebrates the formal emancipation of Black enslaved persons in 1865. Despite Juneteenth only recently declared a federal holiday, the celebration traces back to January of 1863. In that time, formerly enslaved persons began celebrating their freedom and the impending formal emancipation of all enslaved individuals in the United States. 

While originating from a seemingly distant place and time period, Juneteenth was recently introduced to Kansas City and the Historic Northeast in the late 20th century. In 1980, Horace M. Peterson, founder of the Black Archives of Mid America (est.1976), established the annual Juneteenth celebration in the KC region.  In the inaugural local Juneteenth celebration, Peterson brought the Emancipation Proclamation to Kansas City in an exhibit at the Nelson Atkins Museum – allowing over 30,000 persons to view the document. 

Peterson founded the Black Archives of Mid America with the vision of educating the public on all aspects of African American culture – including but not limited to: culture, music, medicine and religion. The Black Archives were originally located in the Old Paseo YMCA building – 1601 E 18th St. Today, the Black Archives of Mid-America in Kansas City are located just east of the historic 18th & Vine district. 

Historically, the Black Archives of Mid America supported Juneteenth celebrations through parades, concerts, and annual Mr/Ms Juneteenth celebrations. This year while observing Juneteenth it is important to understand and celebrate that “Black people had some agency in the freeing of enslaved people,” according to Glenn North, historian at the Kansas City Museum and former member of the Black Archives of Mid America.

Kansas City has already started celebrating Juneteenth. The Miss Juneteenth Pageant was held on May 20 at GEM Theater. Miss Juneteenth KC Phenix was crowned, and is ready to take on nationals in Galveston, Texas.

The Black Archives of Mid-America Kansas City is gearing up for the inaugural JuneteenthKC Film Festival. Mark your calendars for five days of celebration through cinema with showing of both new and classic films at Screenland Armour Theatre. The schedule kicks off with “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” on Wednesday, May 31 at 7 p.m. Check out the other four films detailed on the Black Archives’ FaceBook page.

Kansas City’s historic 18th and Vine district will play an integral part in the Juneteenth celebration, holding a variety of events through June. 

  • Strengthen the Vine First Fridays: Friday, June 2, 2023, 4 – 9 p.m. Enjoy live entertainment, local vendors and family-friendly activities.
  • JuneteenthKC Cultural Parade: Saturday, June 3, 2023; 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Watch the 6th annual parade, with over 100 entries celebrating with the community.
  • JuneteenthKC 12th Annual Heritage Festival: Saturday, June 17, 2023; 12 – 10 p.m. Revel in the 12th Heritage Festival, with more than 200 retail vendors, youth-specific activities and two stages with live performances.
  • Brunch & Learn Health Symposium with Mayor Lucas and Friends: Saturday, June 17, 2023; 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. Be on the lookout for more details to be posted on the JuneteenthKC website.
  • Family Health Center: Saturday, June 17, 2023; 12 – 6 p.m. Check the JuneteenthKC website for further details.

The Kansas City community is prepared to celebrate Juneteenth with this variety of events. Join in celebrating the rich history of the federal holiday with everything from movies to music to a parade.