A couple years ago, the holiday known as Juneteenth had a mixed existence.
To some people, it was big and festive. Others – including a president – had never heard of it.
Not any more. For the first time, Juneteenth (June 19) is officially recognized in all 50 states. And this year – falling on a Sunday, a prime day for TV specials – it’s a major television event.
That peaks with a concert (8-11 p.m., CNN) that is stuffed with gospel talent (including Yolanda Adams, shown here), plus dancers, storytellers, and Earth Wind & Fire. Other cable channels will rerun movies. BET even has a two shows with Juneteenth themes – its “The Recipe” food show at 1 p.m. and the new movie “Block Party” at 5.
The holiday commemorates the day Union troops announced that all slaves in Texas – the last spot where slavery persisted — were free. That was six weeks after the end of the Civil War and two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
Juneteenth has had celebrations in many Black communities … but been obscure elsewhere. Donald Trump originally announced he was re-starting his political rallies on June 19, 2020. He drew criticism for both the date and the location — Tulsa, where Blacks were massacred in 1921.
The response startled Trump, Michael Bender, a Wall Street Journal reporter, wrote in “Frankly, We Did Win This Election” (Hachette, 2021): “He didn’t have a single Black advisor around him to ask. ‘Nobody had heard of it,’ Trump told me.”
A year later, Juneteenth became a federal holiday, passing the Senate unanimously and the House by a 415-14 vote. Federal employees get the day off – or the weekday closest, when it falls on a weekend.
That’s what it does this year, with lots of TV attention. Black-themed shows Sunday include:
— CNN: “Juneteenth: A Global Celebration of Freedom,” 8-11 p.m. ET. The concert includes Yolanda Adams, Billy Porter, Mickey Guyton, Michelle Williams, Anthony Hamilton, Mary Mary, Robert Glasper, Jhene Aiko and Earth, Wind & Fire. There will also be storytellers, the Debbie Allen Dance Academy and a 68-piece orchestra. Questlove (whose The Roots will also perform) and Adam Blackstone are the music directors, with Don Lemon hosting.
— BET: “The Recipe: Juneteenth Edition,” 1 p.m.; then movies – “Favorite Son” (2021), 2 p.m.; “Block Party” (2022), 5; “Harriet” (2019), 8.
— Bounce: At 7 p.m. ET, it has its 30th-anniversary Trumpet Awards. Alongside the gospel music, there are awards for actor Courtney Vance, producer-director Stan Lathan, spelling-bee champion (and basketball star) Zaila Avant-garde, U.S. senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, and Princess Sarah Culbertson, who created Sierra Leone projects following the Ebola and Covid outbreaks.
— PBS World: “Finding Your Roots” traces Queen Latifah and Jeffrey Wright, 8 p.m.; “Slavery by Another Name” looks at post-emancipation laws, 9; “Training for Freedom” looks at 1964 sessions for civil-rights workers, 11:30.
— AXS: 10:30 a.m. ET, half-hour portraits of Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Al Green, Marvin Gaye, James Brown; 1 p.m., Tina Turner concert from 1990; then films on Jimi Hendrix (3:30 and 4 p.m.), Beyonce (5:30), Prince (7 and 10), Lenny Kravitz (11 p.m. and 1:30 a.m.).
— Sundance: “Glory” (1989), 7:45 p.m. and 1:15 a.m.; “If Beale Street Could Talk” (2018), 10:30 p.m.
— VH1: “Ali” (2001), 3:30 and 11 p.m.; “The Temptations,” 7-11 p.m.
— Turner Classic Movies: A musical marathon, with Lena Horne’s “Stormy Weather” (1943), 11:45 a.m. ET; “Jazz on a Summer’s Night” performances (1959), 1:15 p.m.; gospel’s “How They Got Over” (2018), 3; “The Wiz” (1978), 5:15.
— ALSO: More films are streaming via PBS World and PBS Passport. For a list, go to worldchannel.org and hit the “19 films to watch” link.
That includes the passionate “Eyes on the Prize” miniseries and profiles of Muhammad Ali (by Ken Burns), Madam C.J. Walker (by Stanley Nelson) and Fannie Lou Hamer (by Joy Davenport.) Other films range from lynching, voting rights and police brutality to portraits of Black golfers and falconers.