Education and celebration will go hand-in-hand when Martha’s Vineyard marks Juneteenth next month with a weekend filled with history talks, film, food, music and fun.

Juneteenth Jubilee on Martha’s Vineyard, June 17 – 19, encompasses the many events planned islandwide to observe the nation’s newest holiday. Short for June 19th, Juneteenth commemorates the effective end of slavery in the United States in 1865.

One goal of the weekend is to draw attention to the maritime equivalent of the Underground Railroad, focusing on the stories of slaves who gained their freedom by sea. Among these is the slave known only as Esther, whose dramatic escape from the hold of a ship in Edgartown harbor was described in the Vineyard Gazette. A plaque recounting her story is part of the African American Heritage Trail of Martha’s Vineyard. On Sunday at 11 a.m., a gathering at Memorial Wharf around Esther’s plaque will be held.

On Saturday morning at 10 a.m., the maritime aspect of the Underground Railroad will be introduced by distinguished author Dr. Cheryl LaRoche in her educational talk at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum entitled Freedom by Sea. Directly following at 11 a.m., historian and author Barbara Krauthammer will speak about emancipation.

More than two dozen organizations, individuals and businesses are presenting or sponsoring the weekend of events, including Inkwell Haven, the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, Martha’s Vineyard Museum, Vineyard Preservation Trust, MV Camp Meeting Association, the NAACP of Marthas’s Vineyard, the African-American Heritage Trail of Martha’s Vineyard, Cape Cod Five and the Vineyard Gazette.

For a preview of some of the weekend’s highlights that are already planned, read All Around the Island and On the Big Screen (below).   

Click here for a complete schedule, updated regularly.


All Around the Island

Tim Johnson

From Vineyard Haven to Oak Bluffs: While the Martha’s Vineyard Museum in Vineyard Haven will host Saturday morning's talks (left), the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs will be the site of the Juneteenth Jubilee Creative Festival on Saturday afternoon and evening. Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and actress Lynn Whitfield will take part in the program at the Tabernacle. On Sunday the Dunmere House in Oak Bluffs will be dedicated as the 37th site on the African American Heritage Trail. And in the evening, the Martha’s Vineyard Chapter of the NAACP will present Taste of Juneteenth, a sampling of different foods prepared by local chefs at the Portuguese-American Club.

Jeanna Shepard

In Edgartown: In addition to Saturday’s f ilm screenings and book readings (The Inkwell Girl by Nichole J. Edmonds, A Girl of Color by Vikki Young) at the Edgartown Library, Jubilee will continue in Edgartown on Sunday with a gospel brunch at The Edgartown Yacht Club and a tour of the tall ship Shenandoah, which will be docked on the harbor. At 11:30 a.m. Sunday, researchers will gather at Vineyard Preservation Trust’s Çarnegie to talk about how they uncover the stories of escaped slaves.



On the Big Screen

Films will show throughout the Jubilee weekend, starting with Thursday night’s Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 at the Edgartown Library at 7 p.m.

On Friday evening at Union Chapel in Oak Bluffs, a discussion will follow a screening of the film Jubilee, Juneteenth and the Thirteenth, a special documentary from the Museum of African American History in Boston that recounts how African Americans in Massachusetts took an active role in abolition.

Screening at the Edgartown Library at 1 p.m. on Saturday is Miss Juneteenth, the story of a former beauty queen and hard-working single mom preparing her rebellious daughter for a beauty pageant.   On Saturday night at 8 p.m., The Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival will come to Union Chapel with a program called Resilience and Recognition: Short Films Through a Black Lens. Films include Nomadic, The Panola Project, and We Hold These Truths.





A Curated List of Juneteenth Reads

Interested in finding out more about the history and cultural celebrations surrounding the Juneteenth holiday and African-American history? The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture has a curated list of books to read for Juneteenth on their website. From The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free”) to Pulitzer-prize winning author Annette Gordon-Reed’s On Juneteenth, the selection is widely appealing and includes cookbooks, essay collections and fiction.