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Celebrating Juneteenth on Martha's Vineyard: Festivities of Freedom and Unity


Juneteenth, now recognized as a federal holiday, holds a special place on Martha's Vineyard, where the community comes together for a host of multicultural events and activities. This celebration of freedom commemorates June 19, 1865, the day when the United States finally achieved the total abolition of slavery, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. While Martha’s Vineyard is evidenced to have been engaged in the slave trade, there is a far richer history rooted in the abolitionist movement, and Martha's Vineyard has become a safe haven for Black families since the 1800s. Here we discuss the significance of Juneteenth, highlights the exciting events happening on the Island, and emphasizes the importance of supporting black-owned businesses, this month and all year long.

What is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth, a portmanteau of "June" and "nineteenth," is a significant holiday in the United States that commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. On this day in 1865, General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to announce the end of slavery, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. Juneteenth represents a vital milestone in the struggle for equality and serves as a reminder of the ongoing fight against racial injustice.

Martha's Vineyard's Historical Connection

Martha's Vineyard has long embraced the cause of abolition. As early as 1787, the arrival of former slave and preacher John Saunders marked the beginning of support for the abolitionist movement on the Island. Today, Martha's Vineyard, particularly Oak Bluffs, continues to be a renowned getaway for Black families, proud of its legacy and commitment to providing a safe place for all to enjoy, regardless of race or color. All year long the African American Heritage Trail of Martha’s Vineyard continues to remind residents and visitors alike of the contributions made by people of African descent to the history of the Island.

Events on Martha's Vineyard:

Martha's Vineyard celebrates Juneteenth with a diverse array of events and activities that honor the holiday's significance. This year's Juneteenth Jubilee, from June 16th to the 19th, is themed Free as The Wind, celebrating escapes from enslavement in America on the high seas. These events offer opportunities for the community to come together, learn from history, and appreciate the contributions of Black culture. Here are some notable events happening on the Island during the weekend:

Film Screening: Steven Spielberg's Amistad:

(Friday, June 16th 3pm)

The MV Film Society is showing Amistad, Steven Spielberg's acclaimed film at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center. Released in 1997, this historical drama depicts the events that unfolded in 1839 aboard the Spanish slave ship La Amistad. The film portrays the courageous efforts of Mende tribesmen who managed to gain control of the ship off the coast of Cuba, leading to an international legal battle and ultimately a landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1841. This film screening offers an opportunity to delve into the historical context and reflect on the significance of the Amistad rebellion. The film will be followed by the arrival of the ship Amistad, and tickets are sold out for this film. 

The Annual Juneteenth Jubilee Cultural Festival 

(Saturday, June 17th 10:30am to 7pm)

Hosted by the Inkwell Haven Foundation in partnership with the Martha's Vineyard Camp Meeting Association, this festival takes place at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs. It features a Juneteenth Flag Raising Ceremony, engaging speakers, music performances, and cultural showcases. The festival provides a platform to learn more about Martha's Vineyard's history and celebrates the rich heritage of the Black community.

Sailing to Freedom Panel at MV Museum:

(Saturday June 17th 10am-11:30am)

The Vineyard Gazette Media Group presents the Sailing to Freedom Panel at the MV Museum. Historian Dr. Timothy Walker, President of the New Bedford Historical Society Dr. Lee Blake, and MV Museum Librarian & Historian Bow Van Riper will engage in a discussion about the historical significance of the Amistad and its impact on the fight against slavery. This panel provides a deeper understanding of the stories and experiences surrounding the pursuit of freedom.

The Juneteenth Jubilee Cultural Festival After-party 

(Saturday, June 17th 7:30pm to 12:30am)

Following a full day of intellectual and cultural entertainment at the festival, the after-party at MV Flavors offers an opportunity to let loose and celebrate. With DJ music and dancing, the event provides a vibrant atmosphere for attendees to revel in the spirit of Juneteenth.

Special Sunday Service with Rev. Dr. Michael Eric Dyson 

(Sunday, June 18th 10am)

Union Chapel in Oak Bluffs hosts a special Juneteenth Sunday Service featuring renowned author and professor Rev. Dr. Michael Eric Dyson. This service offers a moment of reflection and spiritual connection, highlighting the significance of Juneteenth in the context of faith and community.

Amistad Ship Tours 

(Saturday & Sunday, June 17th & 18th from 10am to 4pm)

The historic schooner Amistad, known for the successful revolt by enslaved Africans, docks at Martha's Vineyard for Juneteenth weekend. Visitors can tour the ship and learn about its powerful history, symbolizing the resilience and determination of those who fought for freedom.

NAACP Martha's Vineyard Branch presents 2nd Annual Taste of Juneteenth 

(Sunday, June 18th 6pm-9pm)

Hosted by the NAACP Martha's Vineyard Branch at the Portuguese American Club, the Taste of Juneteenth event is a food sampling showcase that highlights local BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) chefs. This culinary experience presents soulfully inspired dishes that reflect the Black cultural experience, incorporating diverse traditions and flavors.

Juneteenth Picnic 

(Monday, June 19th 4pm-6pm)

The Oak Bluffs Association invites everyone to honor Juneteenth with a picnic at Inkwell Beach. This event provides an opportunity to gather with family, friends, and neighbors in a relaxed and celebratory atmosphere. Bring your own picnic and enjoy the beautiful beach surroundings while commemorating this historic day. Local businesses such as Island Spirit Kayaks, The Lazy Frog, and Stefanie Wolf Designs will contribute to the fun and games, ensuring an enjoyable experience for all.

Additionally, the Oak Bluffs Library joins in the Juneteenth celebrations with activities such as a Juneteenth-themed craft, magnetic poetry, and a cookbook potluck. These events foster community engagement and provide spaces for education, dialogue, and celebration.

Make sure to explore this page by the Vineyard Gazette, which is a great resource for all of the Juneteenth events happening during the month of June. 

The Importance of Supporting Black-Owned Businesses 

As we commemorate Juneteenth and celebrate the progress made towards equality, it is crucial to acknowledge the importance of supporting black-owned businesses here on Martha’s Vineyard and beyond. By actively patronizing these businesses, we can contribute to the economic empowerment and advancement of Black entrepreneurs and communities. Supporting black-owned businesses helps to create a more inclusive and equitable society by promoting diversity, fostering economic growth, and reducing wealth disparities.

Martha's Vineyard boasts a vibrant community of black-owned businesses that offer unique products, services, and experiences. Explore the Black Owned Martha’s Vineyard Business Directory for a comprehensive list of businesses on the Island.

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