Arts and Culture

Juneteenth is Friday, and Louisville will mark the annual holiday, also known as Freedom Day, with a number of events around the city, as well as a seven-episode locally produced online video series. 

The latter, the second annual Juneteenth Jubilee, is online because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The video project uses drama, dance, poetry and music to go deeper into what the holiday is about, both the history and the impacts of slavery that can still be felt today. 

Jecorey Arthur, a Louisville musician and candidate for Metro Council, directed it. 

“This year, we wanted to dive deeper into what Juneteenth meant,” Arthur, who is also a former employee of Louisville Public Media, said. “And not only the celebration of the day itself, but what was happening before Juneteenth, what happened during Juneteenth and what happened after Juneteenth… a deep dive into the history of slavery and the abolishment of it and how there’s really a throughline of Neo-slavery that still exists today that we are still impacted by.”

Juneteenth commemorates the day Union troops reached Texas and a general read federal orders, informing the state that it had to free all enslaved people. That was on June 19, 1865, almost two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. 

Art can educate and inspire change, Arthur says.

“In some cases, people won’t listen to what you’re trying to tell them, unless you put it out in an engaging way through art,” he said. 

He points to art, such as spirituals, the music, created and sung by enslaved Black people.

“So, the art is so significant to us because, when our ancestors would hum those tunes, they reflected the sorrow but also gave us hope for tomorrow,” he said. “It’s a teaching tool, a healing tool and a therapeutic tool to get us through these moments.”

The virtual Juneteenth Jubilee, produced in partnership with Actors Theatre of Louisville and the Waterfront Park, features performances by Arthur, AMPED, Chanson Calhoun, Chase Dean, Dave Clark Trio, Hannah L. Drake, Jamesse, Jason Clayborn and the Atmosphere Changers, Jason Clayborn, JD Green, Maestro J, Pat Mathison, Sheryl Rouse, The La’Nita Rocknettes School of Dance, and The Untouchables.

“Although we would rather be celebrating in person with the community, we recognize the gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic and its disproportionate impact on African Americans,” Deborah Bilitski, president and executive director of Waterfront Park, said in a release. “We’re happy to offer a virtual, educational and celebratory experience that we hope will help to expand the community’s understanding of the significance of Juneteenth.”

“The importance and necessity of recognizing Juneteenth as a seminal North American holiday that celebrates the extraordinary contributions of black cultural, political, and social action, now more than ever, seems intuitively legible, and we are grateful to reflect that in our theater making with these compelling stories,” Actors Theatre’s executive artistic director, Robert Barry Fleming, said in a release.

The series will be streamed on the Waterfront’s website June 19 -July 31, 2020, as well as broadcast weekly on Wave Country with Dawne Gee at noon on Fridays.

You can find a list of Juneteenth events and celebrations at Juneteenth502.com

Stephanie Wolf is WFPL's Arts Reporter.