New Mexico’s story is a multicultural one, but the contributions of Black Americans to our state’s history and culture rarely get as much attention as, say, Native Americans or Hispanics. Granted, the Southwest’s population of African Americans isn’t as plentiful as places in the South. (N.M. has about a 2 percent African American population, compared to Georgia’s 32 percent.) Nonetheless, our state’s connection to Black America has been a long and storied one. This year the City of Albuquerque is putting that connection front and center with a plus-sized public celebration of Juneteenth.
Juneteenth is a holiday marking the end of slavery in the United States. Abraham Lincoln outlawed slavery with the Emancipation Proclamation in September of 1862. But slavery didn’t actually come to an end until the Civil War was concluded and Union Army General Gordon Granger proclaimed freedom from slavery in the holdout state of Texas on June 19, 1865. Celebrations among the state’s Black population came almost immediately. The date was officially made a Texas state holiday in January of 1980. Several states now recognize Juneteenth as a paid state holiday, and federal legislative efforts are underway to turn it into a national holiday and a national day of observance. Last year’s Juneteenth celebrations were cut short by the COVID pandemic, a great shame considering the holiday came almost at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests that were rocking our nation.
For 2021 the City of Albuquerque dedicates a full weekend to “celebrating the deep-rooted Black culture in New Mexico.” This three-day festival is described as “for the community and put on by members of the community.” Among the sponsoring organizations is Welstand Foundation, a nonprofit group of community members and other organizational leaders “who want to improve health equity in N.M. for people of color,” and Black New Mexico Movement, the group behind many of our state’s BLM demonstrations. “The atmosphere surrounding this year’s Juneteenth is electric and all about celebrating,” says Welstand founder Nichole Rogers. “I am excited that the City of Albuquerque was a leader and passed a resolution making Juneteenth an official holiday, and this is the first year City employees have Juneteenth off.”
The theme of 2021’s celebration is ujamaa (translated as “cooperative economics”), and organizers will be bringing Black-owned businesses, artisans, vendors, performers and more to celebrate. “New Mexico Juneteenth 2021: To A Higher Ground” takes place June 18 through 20 on Albuquerque’s Civic Plaza Downtown. Things get underway at 4pm on Friday and Noon the following days. Enjoy live music, food and lots of dancing—along with a special Sunday Service to celebrate “our amazing black fathers in the community.” Among the musical headliners are Filipino-American rapper Guapdad 4000, Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Asiahn, electronic music producer Kaelin Ellis and nationally known DJ ESTA.
Tickets to this event are free, but attendees are encouraged to “show the tribe some love by adding a donation to your ticket order.” Tickets can be reserved by going to tickets.holdmyticket.com/tickets/374759. If you are unable to attend the celebration in person, you can view the festivities online at youtube.com/watch?v=yNbLTHnnkFM.
“This year more people outside the Black community are aware that Juneteenth is our true Independence Day,” says Rogers, who also serves as African-American Community & Business Liaison for the city. “And we hope that means more people will come out to celebrate with us the way we do for the Fourth of July.”