Juneteenth in Eastern Iowa: cook-outs, blood drives, water balloon battles and Black art

Ean Mills raises his fist on the University of Iowa Pentacrest on Saturday, June 20, during the Iowa City’s Juneteenth celebrations. — courtesy of Melanie Hester

It has been one year since Iowa City and the U.S. government have formally recognized Juneteenth as an official holiday.

Many cities across Iowa have been slow to formally recognize Juneteenth, even though the holiday dates back to 1865. However, on the state level, Iowa formally began observing Juneteenth as a holiday back in 2002. Governor Tom Vilsack signed a bill designating the third Saturday of June as the date of the state annually commemoration of Juneteenth, making Iowa the seventh state to officially recognize the day.

Juneteenth is widely celebrated across the country. Communities gather to celebrate Black culture and commemorate Black liberation, and the lives of their ancestors. Juneteenth marks the day that some of the last enslaved people received news of the Emancipation Proclamation, the order that officially abolished slavery throughout the United States. Texas was the last Confederate state to receive the news.

There are many ways to celebrate and learn more about the history of Juneteenth in Eastern Iowa this week.

In Iowa City, the Johnson County Juneteenth Commemoration group and the City of Iowa City are offering a series of free events. Tonight at 6 p.m., individuals are encouraged to head out to Dream City (611 Southgate Ave, Iowa City) for a community conversation regarding the Oracles of Iowa City – a mural project created by Public Space and the Center for Afrofuturist Studies. The conversation will dive into issues surrounding Blackness and Belonging in Iowa City.

The Oracles of Iowa City. Adria Carpenter/Little Village

On Friday at 5 p.m., in Iowa City, Downtown at Sundown is happening at Chauncey Swan Park. The event is organized by the Johnson County Iowa Juneteenth Commemoration and Black Voices Project. The event will include food, live music, a fashion show, street basketball, a bounce house and more.

Additionally, there are two main Juneteenth events on Saturday in Iowa City and Coralville. Celebrations will be happening simultaneously at Iowa City’s Mercer Park and Coralville’s S.T. Morrison Park. Expect to see local performers, children’s activities, and financial, health and wellness vendors at these events. At Mercer Park, a blood drive is also scheduled from 11 a.m to 1:30 p.m. as part of the Juneteenth celebrations.

In Cedar Rapids on Saturday, the African American Museum of Iowa is hosting a large Juneteenth festival at NewBo City Market. Throughout the day, Cedar Rapids Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell will deliver a proclamation and performers will take the stage. There will also be community vendors, face painting and more. The museum has hosted Juneteenth events for many years, but this will be the festival’s second year at NewBo.

On Sunday at NewBo, the Cedar Rapids Opera is presenting its second annual Juneteenth concert. Musicians MaKayla McDonald and Jude Balthazar will be performing at 2 p.m.

In observance of Juneteenth, city offices will be closed on Monday in Johnson and Linn County.

For even more events, check out LV’s state-wide Juneteenth collection below.

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