Juneteenth marks the time when slaves belatedly found out they had been freed. The Emancipation Proclamation officially freed "all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State," on Jan. 1, 1864, but slaves in Texas didn't get the news until June 19, 1865.
It's celebrated in different parts of the country to mark the end of slavery, and one of the co-owners of Dovecote Café in Reservoir Hill, Cole, says that she and her partner Aisha Pew were surprised to find out that Baltimore City didn't have a big Juneteenth celebration. They are remedying that problem by throwing a Juneteenth celebration in and around their coffee shop this weekend.
"Juneteenth is actually really, really, big in California and in the south, particularly, of course, in Texas, but throughout the south. It is a pretty significant holiday, I believe the largest black holiday that they celebrate, so it was really surprising that Baltimore doesn't have a Juneteenth celebration," Cole says. "Apparently they used to… but it's been some number of years, the '90s really, that there was a celebration, and so we were really excited to be able to do that."
Cole says that Dovecote Café will be ground-zero for the celebration, with farm demonstrations, representatives from the group B-360 using dirt bikes to teach kids science and math, and lots of vendors. There will be walking tours of the homes and gardens of Reservoir Hill, and plenty of games.
"We also are really excited to partner with Say it Loud Games, and Say it Loud Games is a black trivia game, and they are going to be running trivia all day Saturday and Sunday and people can participate for 15 minutes or for five hours depending on what their appetite is," Cole says.
"The other thing is that we will have kind of historic games so there will be double-dutch and there will be hula hoops and there will be chalk and hopscotch," says Cole. "A lot of the games that children played on the plantations are not appropriate, we would not want to bring those into the modern day, but there are games like double-dutch, which originated on plantations with young girls, hockey also, the original version of hockey, was called shinny and was invented by young kids, young black slaves on plantations so the idea is…being able to bring back some of those old time games and to play those."
It's fitting that the celebration is being held in Reservoir Hill, Cole says, because of the area's rich history. The area once housed a bustling Jewish community, but even before that, it played a big part in the dismantling of the institution of slavery.
"The neighborhood played a unique role in being the largest outpost of [Union] troops that were stationed at the time and it also was really significant in that it became the destination point for slaves who were being freed from slave blocks and from the slave stocks and pens across the city," Cole says.
The celebration will also be a time, Cole says, to look forward.
"We really see Juneteenth as an opportunity to not only honor the history and the legacy but for us to think about what our current investment is in the black economic infrastructure of our community. So that’s about supporting black businesses, it’s also about asking the question of how do we do that year-round? What is our commitment to supporting black leadership? And it’s an opportunity for our community to think really intentionally about how to build our core capacity as folks who are stewarding and shepherding the economic opportunity that reaches everybody in our neighborhoods and communities.”
"As a black city, [Baltimore] has still a very long way to go and making good on the promise of equal access to opportunity for the vast majority of its citizens," Cole says. "Juneteenth is just one way for us to frame that and think about that as a black community. We certainly invite folks of all races to be invested in that conversation, but this is really about honoring and celebrating together what that looks like and what it means for us."
The Juneteenth celebration will take place in and around Dovecote Café Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m.–4 p.m. The celebration is free, but tickets to the Reservoir Hill walking tour are $15. For more information go to bmorejuneteenth.org.