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The History of the Annual Brooklyn Juneteenth Arts Festival

June 19, 1865 is the date that slaves in Texas and other parts of the south learned about their freedom, which happened nearly two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. This occasion became know as “Juneteenth”, and has been acknowledged with community celebrations throughout the south for nearly 140 years.

The Annual Brooklyn Juneteenth Arts Festival began in 2000 as a day long, in store event at 4W Circle of Art and Enterprise in Fort Greene, Brooklyn under the leadership of 4W collective member and fashion designer Brenda Brunson-Bey (Tribal Truth Collection).

Bey, a native of Georgia, grew up participating in Juneteenth festivities, and established the 4W Circle celebration because few Brooklyn residents knew about this vastly important, but little-known moment in American History.

One year later, Bey recruited other artists and entrepreneurs living and working in Brooklyn to help move the celebration outside and into the community. This core group of people included Spring McClendon (The SCM Consultants), Selma Jackson (4W Circle of Art and Enterprise), Marcia Pendelton (Walk Tall Girl Productions) and Charles Reese (Teeth and Eyes Communications).

The group formed The Cooperative Culture Collective (TCCC), an organization founded to grow the festival and to produce other programs commemorating the arts and culture of the African Diaspora.
Funding from such organizations as the Brooklyn Arts Council, BAM Local Development Corporation, Fulton First and Rush Philanthropic Foundation enabled the festival to move from 4W Circle of Art and Enterprise to Cuyler Gore Park (Carlton Avenue and Fulton Street) in 2001.

That celebration included an entertainment stage, pony rides, face painting and games, as well as information tables and booths for art, business and community service organizations. In 2002, TCCC added another day of programming to the Juneteenth Arts Festival by hosting a community reception at Lafayette Presbyterian Church, a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Two years later TCCC created the “Juneteenth Uplift Award” to honor Brooklyn citizens whose life and work exemplified the spirit of Juneteenth. Author/ activist Kevin Powell and artist / activist Miriam B. Francis were the first recipients.

The Annual Juneteenth Arts Festival, which is held the third Saturday in June has presented nationally renowned artists as well as community-based talents.

These performers have included Grammy Award winning singer/ song writer Gordon Chambers, Grammy nominated jazz vocalist Carla Cook, such outstanding dance ensembles as Urban Bush Women and Creative Outlet Dance Theater of Brooklyn, acclaimed musicians Benny Russell and Tulani Kinard, and the Carter G. Woodson Steppers, a youth services organization.


Historically The Brooklyn Steppers, the only New York City marching band chosen to march in President Barack Obama’s Inaugural parade has opened the celebration.

The goal of TCCC is to continue to educate Brooklyn residents specifically, and the five borough area generally, about the history and importance of Juneteenth through the festival and other related programs. In addition, the vision of TCCC includes making the festival a destination event that will attract visitors from all over the world, thereby contributing to Brooklyn’s economy and its reputation as a place where arts and culture flourish.