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Denver's annual Juneteenth celebration returns with added significance
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DENVER — The annual Juneteenth Music Festival is returning to Denver’s Five Points neighborhood June 18 and 19, and this year’s celebration comes with added significance.

This year’s free-to-attend street festival will be the first in Denver since Juneteenth became a federal holiday, and the first since Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed a bill making it a state holiday.

“Our 2022 festival is distinctly special as it's also the state’s first paid holiday honoring Juneteenth,” said Norman Harris, president of the Juneteenth Music Festival, in a news release. “It’s a momentous milestone in our historical recognition as African Americans and as such we’ve got an even bigger range of free programming and activities for all the family.”

Juneteenth started with the freed slaves of Galveston, Texas more than 150 years ago. Though the Emancipation Proclamation freed enslaved people in the South in 1863, the proclamation was not enforced in many places in the South, including Texas, until after the Civil War ended in 1865. Until then, many enslaved people were unaware of what happened in the Civil War or the fact that they should have been freed.

On June 19, 1865, Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger and his troops arrived at Galveston. Granger brought with him General Order No. 3 which read, in part, “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”

The following year, the now-free people of Texas began celebrating Juneteenth. For a long time, the holiday was predominantly recognized in Texas, but eventually spread across the nation as Black Texans moved outside the state.

According to the Denver Public Library, Denver’s Juneteenth celebration began in the early 1950s “and eventually grew to be one of the nation’s largest celebrations of its kind.” It was in the 1980s that the celebration moved to Five Points. The Juneteenth Music Festival as we know it today started in 2012. Rocky Mountain PBS is one of the sponsors of this year's celebration.

Colorado Voices

Juneteenth parade 2022

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Rating: TV-G

A parade celebrating Juneteenth started at Manual High School in Denver on Saturday.

Juneteenth spectators in front of House of Soul restaurant in 1988
Photo: Denver Public Library
The color guard and drumline perform in Denver's 1993 Juneteenth Parade
Photo: Denver Public Library

Four Days of Events

The official Juneteenth Music Festival is Saturday and Sunday, but there are also events Friday and Monday in Denver.

Friday, June 17

On Friday, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance and the Colorado Black Caucus are celebrating Juneteenth with an evening jazz concert from the Javon Jackson Quartet featuring poet Nikki Giovanni. The artists will be performing excerpts from “The Gospel According to Nikki Giovanni.” More information on the ticketed event, which is sponsored in part by KUVO Jazz, is available here.

An overhead shot shows poet Nikki Giovanni sitting next to Javon Jackson in a recording studio as he plays the saxophone.
Nikki Giovanni, left, and Javon Jackson.
Photo: Cleo Parker Robinson Dance

Saturday and Sunday, June 18-19

The Juneteenth Music Festival kicks off Saturday with a parade starting at 11 a.m. at Manual High School in Denver’s Whittier neighborhood. After the parade, attendees can listen to live music starting at noon. A full schedule and list of performers is available here.

The celebration continues Sunday with more live music, including 104.7 THE DROP’s DJ Bella Scratch, who will be on the main stage at 1 p.m.

Monday, June 20

On Monday (the observed day for Juneteenth this year), the Sie FilmCenter on Colfax is hosting a screening and panel discussion of WATTSTAX, a concert film and documentary about the 1972 Watts Summer Festival at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Performers included Richard Pryor, Isaac Hayes and Luther Ingram. The panel discussion about the film will include Denver NAACP President Sondra Young, Colorado State Rep. Leslie Herod (D-Denver) and others. More information on the event is available here.


Kyle Cooke is the digital media manager at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at kylecooke@rmpbs.org.

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