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Race, Space, and Place: Getting Hyper-Local for Juneteenth in Boston

The Roxbury Film Festival Kicks off June 17th and runs until June 26th. Photo Credit: BECOMING A QUEEN, 2021 Festival Selection.

The two things I think most about are space and place. I believe that where things sit in relation to each other, how people move through and anchor to place, is at the core of our processing and our experience. This idea underlies all my art writing and all my art thinking and all my art making.

This article comes to you in advance of Juneteenth (which the Senate made a federal holiday earlier this week!). BAR (as a community-centered cultural organization) and myself (as a Black woman) have a vested interest in making sure all those we touch interrogate the meaning of this holiday. Juneteenth, as I’m hoping you know by now, commemorates the liberation of African Americans from slavery in this country. It dates back to June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers led by Gordon Granger marched into Galveston, Texas, and proclaimed that the remaining enslaved people were to be freed, effective immediately. However, these enslaved people had technically been free for over two years, since the Emancipation Proclamation took effect in 1863, but had no way of knowing. Enslavers, true to form, kept that secret for as long as they could.  They took advantage of both the remoteness of Galveston, which is located on a small island just beyond Texas City, and their control over enslaved people’s spatial freedom. 

Juneteenth reminds me just how much space and place matter. Even in the face of big structures like racial capitalism and institutionalized slavery, sometimes the local is all we feel. Often undetected in the margins between official decrees and changing administrations, progress happens in people’s lived experiences at a local level. There are uprisings, celebrations, and moments of mourning in our communities every day that those just a little bit beyond may never hear of. 

In this vein, I invite you to participate in Juneteenth by contemplating and celebrating the local.

Below, we’ve compiled a list of events in the coming days that directly engage with the holiday. Yet this consideration about the importance of place—how we relate to it and its history, how it shapes experience, especially in relationship to power and privilege—can and should be a regular practice. In our community, the African American Trail Project, which catalogs more than 200 African-American historic sites across Massachusetts, offers a number of ways for us to think about how this place has been informed by Black history. You can explore the map through walking tours and other spatial experiences year-round. And right here in Boston, the National Center of Afro-American Artists is an incredible resource tucked away in a residential area in Roxbury. Founded by Dr. Elma Lewis and stewarded by Edmund Barry Gaither, the institution holds a collection of over 3,000 works and artifacts. This unmatched cultural and historical space in New England is a true treasure worth celebrating. 

When we think about place, we must acknowledge the spatial relationships that power takes on. Juneteenth also re-centers the marginalized. That we celebrate the anniversary of this event—peripheral and delayed as it was—feels like an acknowledgment (and exclamation) of the fact that none of us is free until we all are.


 

Roxbury International Film Festival
Thursday, June 17 – Saturday, June 26 
Events held both virtually and in-person
The Roxbury International Film Festival is the largest film festival in New England celebrating people of color. The ten-day event will consist of screenings of all genres of film, workshops, panel discussions, and social events that foreground the Black experience. More information.

Two Languages, One Community 
Thursday, June 17 at 6:00 PM via a virtual platform
Presented by Cambridge Public Library 
A workshop using writing and translation to facilitate the exchange of cultural and life experiences between Black American and Chinese communities. More information.

Witness: Spirituals and the Classical Music Tradition
Friday, June 18 at 6:00 PM via a virtual platform
Co-presented by the Isabella Stewart Garder Museum and Castle of Our Skins
The fourth and final video from the Gardner’s series explores how some Black American composers have found inspiration in the rich tradition of spirituals. More information.

Embarqued: Stories of Soil
Thursday, June 17 and Friday, June 18 at 8:00 PM
Presented by Martha’s Vineyard Museum 
151 Lagoon Pond Rd. Vineyard Haven, MA 02568
This installation-based dance-theatre performance centers on a ship mast and invites reflection on post-colonial foundations and mythology. More information.

Juneteenth Emancipatory Observance 
Interrogating Juneteenth: History as Teacher
Saturday, June 19 via a virtual platform
Part 1: 11:00 AM, 1:00 PM. Part 2: 4:00 PM, 9:00PM.
Presented by Boston Juneteenth Committee and the National Center for Afro-American Artists
Inspiring presentations, arts and culture, music and entertainment. More information.

Cambridge Families of Color Coalition’s Juneteenth Celebration
Saturday, June 19 from 11:00 AM – 4:00 PM
In-person, Starlight Square in Central Square, Cambridge
A celebration of arts featuring live performances, puppetry, musical theatre, and more. More information

Black Feminisms Part 1: Freedom Fête & Benefit
Saturday, June 19 at 6:00 PM via a virtual platform
Presented by deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum
This virtual dance party will explore musical innovation as part of the Black legacy. Come celebrate the beauty and contributions of the African diaspora, groove to DJs from across the country, and support Boston Ujima Project, For the Gworls, and Activation Residency– three grassroots organizations empowering Black womxn and trans people in Boston and beyond. More information.

Juneteenth
Saturday, June 19 from 10:00 AM – 10:00 PM on-site on the MFA’s outdoor campus
Presented by MFA Boston
Throughout the day, make art inspired by “Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation,” see a concert curated by BAMS Fest, and catch a screening of Summer of Soul, a documentary from legendary musician Questlove featuring unearthed footage from the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival. More information.

All That She Carried: A Conversation with Tiya Miles
Tuesday, June 22 at 7:00 PM via a virtual platform
Presented by the Royall House and Slave Quarters, the Concord Museum, and the Robbins House
Join MacArthur “Genius” Fellow and Harvard University Professor Tiya Miles as she discusses her new book, All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake, a story about women, mothers, and daughters, who chose the profundity of love over dehumanizing condition. More information.


 

Abena Osei Duker studied/s design and art history at Harvard. She’s now a Boston-based visual culture and built environment nerd doing a variety of projects to advance community engagement in both of those fields.