HELENA — The Montana Historical Society, The Myrna Loy, and the Holter Museum of Art are teaming up on Saturday, June 17, to celebrate Juneteenth National Freedom Day.

Juneteenth is a federal holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. The holiday was first celebrated in Texas, where on June 19, 1865, in the aftermath of the Civil War, enslaved people learned they were set free under the 1862 Emancipation Proclamation.

The holiday offers an opportunity to celebrate Black freedom as a community and recognize African Americans’ long presence and many contributions to Montana’s, and our nation’s, history.

“Most Montanans don’t realize the significant role African Americans have played in our state since the earliest days of non-Indian settlement,” said Martha Kohl, the MTHS Outreach and Education Program manager. “We’ve organized an event that we hope will attract all ages, from youths to senior citizens.”

All the events take place, or leave from, The Myrna Loy at 15 No. Ewing.

The free celebration kicks off with an African American history tour of Helena on the tour train from 5 to 6 p.m. Advanced registration is required at https://bit.ly/HelenaJuneteenthTour. At the same time, the documentary “Bicycle Corps: America’s Black Army on Wheels” will be shown. It tells the story of the 25th Infantry’s 1897 bicycle trip from Missoula to Missouri, as part of a test to see if bikes could replace horses in transporting Army troops.

The Holter’s After-school Teen Art Council invites all to celebrate Juneteenth by creating their own art from 6 to 9 p.m. Chalk and concrete canvasses will be provided. From 6:30 to 7 p.m., join Helena Mayor Wilmot Collins, Chris Young-Greer, and J.P. Williams in recognizing the holiday. Young-Greer is works for the Montana Racial Equity Project and Williams is a descendant of African American Montana pioneer Lafayette Mundy (1841 -1910), who served in the U.S. Army from 1864 to 1881. 

Lastly, dance to tunes from DJ Andrea Cross Guns during a street party from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Food and drink will be available from The Myrna Loy Pub and Habana 406 Food Truck starting at 5:30 p.m.  

“Juneteenth places African Americans at the center of the conversation about what freedom means, and while it began as a uniquely African American holiday, today it is an important holiday for everyone to celebrate,” said Young-Greer. “All Americans should pause to remember the atrocities suffered by their fellow human beings because of the color of their skin. All Americans should rejoice for the day that freedom finally came, and all Americans should pause to acknowledge African Americans’ full humanity and citizenship — an acknowledgement that was long deferred but should never be denied.”

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