Juneteenth Events in Iowa for 2023

On June 19, 1865, almost two years after President Abraham Lincoln emancipated enslaved Africans in the US, Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas with news of freedom, affecting more than 250,000 African Americans.

That day became known around the country as Juneteenth, or Freedom Day.

“Juneteenth is a day that we celebrate not just the end of slavery in the US but also honor our ancestors, celebrate our families, honor the contributions of Black people and showcase the strength and diversity of our stories, experiences and lives,” said Ankeny’s Juneteenth organizer Deshara Bohanna.

“It’s a day of celebration to recognize the freedom that was robbed from us so long ago,” said LaTanya Graves, an organizer of Waterloo Juneteenth. “It’s just to commemorate what our ancestors went through in order to be free. And, even after they were free, we still have so many trials and tribulations we went through.”

Juneteenth is officially a Monday this year, but events have already started in some places, with many this weekend, and others throughout the month. Check out the list below to find an event near you:

Advertise on Iowa Starting Line


3rd Annual Juneteenth Festival, 4 p.m.-10 p.m. June 17, District Town Square, 1500 SW Main Street, Ankeny (across from the new Kirkendall Public Library).

Appearances by the Isiserettes, Swan Ballet, Genesis Youth Foundation, Hip Hop Literacy, Metro Mix Dance, Soul Steppas and more! Live music from Sharane Calister & The Feel Right Band from 8-10 p.m. Featuring vendors, 360 photo booth, face painting, balloons, mini golf, mural painting, more photo opps, kids crafts and more.

More info here.

Cedar Rapids

African American Museum of Iowa’s Juneteenth Commemoration through June 19:

June 14: Decolonizing Mental Health screening, 6 p.m., Cedar Rapids Public Library. Decolonizing Mental Health dismantles the racism that underscores the mental healthcare industry. By focusing its gaze on the transformative work of therapists and individuals of color, it calls for a redressal of the ways in which we define psychiatric illness and health. Through 20 profiles, the digital series discusses what a more responsive mental health care system should look like. A facilitated discussion led by Anne Harris Carter will immediately follow the screening.

June 16: dwb (driving while black) with the Des Moines Metro Opera, 6 p.m., Cedar Rapids Public Library. “dwb (driving while black)” is a new opera from composer Susan Kander and librettist Roberta Gumbel. This piece is montage of poetic and haunting moments examining the trials and triumphs Black mothers experience as their children come of age in a society plagued by racism and inequality (runtime: 45 min). Tickets are free but reservations are required. A moderated discussion will immediately follow the performance.

June 17: Juneteenth Festival, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., NewBo City Market. Live performances:

  • MC Anthony Betters, Jr. & DJ Commando
  • Zumba with Doris Agyemang
  • Mayoral Proclamations – Mayors O’Donnell and AbouAssaly
  • Harmonica with Slayton Thompson
  • Spoken Word with Lydia Newsome
  • Gospel Artist, Bethany Elle
  • Spoken Work with Akwi Nji
  • Hip Hop Artist Tone da Boss
  • R&B Artist Tevin Jones
  • Gospel Hip Hop with We Dream Less

June 19: 1619 Freedom School Interview w/Dr. Ashley Howard, online premiere.

More info here.


The Friends of MLK’s Quad City Juneteenth Festival, June 16-19:

June 16:

  • 12:30 p.m., Lincoln Center Ribbon Cutting, Lincoln Center, TMBC, 318 E. 7th St.
  • 3-5 p.m., Pulling Focus Film Festival. Block 1 Films will be screened in the TMBC Auditorium, 318 E. 7th St.
  • 5:30-7:30 p.m. Pulling Focus Film Festival, Opening Ceremony, Azubuike Studio, The Lincoln Center

June 17:

  • 11 a.m.- 6 p.m., QC Annual Juneteenth Festival, Lincoln Center, TMBC, 318 E. 7th St. Food and retail vendors, history and information booths, fun-filled games and entertainment for the whole family.
  • 11 a.m.-9:50 p.m., Pulling Focus Film Festival. Figge Art Museum’s Theater, 225 W. 2nd St., and Putnam Museum’s Giant Theater, 1717 W. 12th St.
  • 7 p.m., Alpha White Party, Figge Art Museum, 225 W. 2nd St. Join the brothers of the Mu Chi Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. for their annual White Party. Food from Thunder Bay Grille, a cash bar and the latest jams spinning on the 1’s and 2’s. Attire is “All White,” so dress your best and no athletic gear please. Tickets here.

June 18:

  • 1-3 p.m., Faith, Freedom, Fatherhood, Lincoln Center, TMBC. Juneteenth is a time when people of Christian faith recommit to evoke, stand on, and live out the promises of God to deliver all people everywhere from bondage and oppression. Celebrate independence, emancipation, freedom, liberation, culture, and love, and honor the Black men and the role they play in our lives and our community. All are welcome.
  • 2-4 p.m., Pulling Focus Film Festival Closing/Awards Ceremony, Lincoln Center, TMBC
  • 5-9 p.m., Rhythm on the River, Schwiebert Park. Celebrate the contributions of Black musicians and highlight Black voices in our local music scene at Schwiebert Riverfront Park.

June 19:

  • 10 a.m., Honoring the 108th United States Colored Troops Infantry (USCT), Rock Island National Cemetery. The 108th United States Colored Troops Infantry (USCT) was a regiment of 980 men who were mostly former slaves from Kentucky. The regiment was sent to guard confederate prisoners of war at Rock Island Prison Barracks during the Civil War. The prison is now the site of the Rock Island Arsenal. During their eight month stay here, 50 men from the regiment died and are buried at the Rock Island Arsenal National Cemetery. You may enter at the Moline gate. Bring your lawn chairs.
  • 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., Vera French Celebrates Juneteenth, Carol Center, 808 N. Harrison St. Enjoy lunch and learn more about Vera French’s actions in inclusion and community involvement, and tour the Carol Center by Clubhouse Members.
  • 3:30-5 p.m., The Taking of Harris Neck by Kevin Mannens, MLK Interpretive Center, 501 Brady St. The documentary film, “The Fight for Harris Neck,” explores an ongoing land battle in Harris Neck, Georgia. In 1942, the U.S. war department seized 2,687 acres of land from a self-reliant community of 75 African American families. The documentary was created by Moss Chasteen and Luke Humphlett who interviewed many descendants of Harris Neck talking about the sacred land they love and want to have returned to them. Since 1962, the land has been a national wildlife refuge. The film seeks to answer the pivotal question: How has a community been shaped by its common goal to reclaim their land? Discussion to follow the film will focus on the importance of collecting our local stories, digitizing them to honor and preserve our Quad City History.

More info here.

Des Moines

Iowa Juneteenth Observance, through June 23.

  • June 15: Community Builders Appreciation Banquet, Drake Olmstead Building, 2875 University Ave. 5 p.m. networking, 6 p.m. banquet begins.
  • June 16: Juneteenth Charity Golf Outing, Blank Golf Course, 808 Country Line Road. 7 a.m. check in, 8 a.m. shotgun start.
  • June 17: Neighbor’s Day Celebration, Western Gateway Park, 1000 Grand Ave. Noon-8 p.m. Live entertainment, gospel, jazz, spoken word, bands, motivational speakers, shopping, children’s play area, raffles, educational seminars, storybook walk and more.
  • June 19: Drive-In Movie Night: “Wakanda Forever,” Valley West Mall parking lot next to the old Younkers, 1551 Valley West Drive. 6 p.m. gates open, 8 p.m. start. This is a free event. Grab the kids, your blankets, pillows, popcorn, and treat.
  • June 23: The Culture in Color, Bella Love Event Venue, 8801 University Ave., Suite 29, Clive. Step out to this event in your most vibrant colors and enjoy a night of soft, soulful, and upbeat music provided by DJ TMaxx. Great cultural food will be provided till gone by the fabulous Joppa Experience. There will be an award ceremony to celebrate individuals who are serving the community for the better. Tickets here.

More info here.


13th annual Juneteenth Freedom Celebration, June 16-18.

  • June 16: Juneteenth Art Exhibition, 5-9 p.m., Multicultural Family Center, 1157 Central Ave. Featuring the works of up-and-coming African American artists, spoken word, and poetry.
  • June 17: Picnic in the Park, noon-3 p.m., Jackson Park, 15th and Main. Includes a talent show (cash prizes awarded), raffles, bounce house, games for all ages, community booths, local business vendors, door prizes, free food and food trucks.
  • June 18: Community Prayer and Praise, 11 a.m.–1 p.m., Jackson Park. Food trucks will be available.
  • June 18: Dubuque’s African American History, 1 p.m., Dubuque Museum of Art. The Dubuque County Historic Preservation Commission, Dubuque Branch NAACP and the Dubuque Museum of Art are doing a half-hour presentation at 1 p.m., followed by a walking tour of about an hour to look at some of the sites and formers site, and then a reception back at the Dubuque Museum of Art. Free, RSVPs requested.

Iowa City

12th annual Johnson County Iowa Juneteenth Commemoration, through June 20.

June 14: The Rich History of Emancipation Day Celebrations in Iowa, noon-1 p.m., Zoom. This virtual program will be presented by Dr. Leslie Schwalm, historian of Civil War America and Professor Emeritus of history and gender, women’s, and sexuality studies at the University of Iowa. Leslie writes and lectures on how the wartime destruction of slavery shaped the lives of Black and white Americans, North and South. Pre-registration is required.

June 15: Juneteenth Prayer Service, 6 p.m., St Thomas More Catholic Church, 3000 12th Ave., Coralville.

June 16: Iowa City Juneteenth, starts at 4 p.m., Iowa City Pedmall.

  • 4-6pm– Johnson County Resource Fair, Blackhawk Mini park
  • 5:00pm – Royceann’s Soul Food opens
  • 5:00pm – Meet & Greet, MERGE
  • 5:30pm – Wright House of Fashion Fashion Show presented by GreenState Community Credit Union, Weatherdance Fountain Stage
  • 6:30pm – Isaac Jordan presented by Summer of the Arts, Weatherdance Fountain Stage
  • 8:00pm – Aniba and the Sol Starz, Weatherdance Fountain Stage

June 18: Juneteenth and Father’s Day Picnic, noon, Wetherby Park. DJ, 3-on-3 basketball, community potluck, yard games.

June 20: How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America, 6-7:30 p.m., Zoom. In honor of Juneteenth, the City of Iowa City Office of Equity and Human Rights and the Iowa City Public Library are hosting a virtual book discussion of “How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America” by Clint Smith. The virtual discussion will be facilitated by Abena Sankofa Imhotep, Director of Sankofa Literary and Empowerment Group of Des Moines. If you will need disability-related accommodations in order to participate in this event, please contact 319-356-5022 or email humanrights@iowa-city.org. Early requests are strongly encouraged to allow sufficient time to meet your access needs. Register here.

More info here.


Juneteenth Celebration, Noon-7 p.m. June 19, Central Park.

Celebrate the music, art and history of the African American communities. This event will feature live music, dancing, vendors, food trucks, and fun activities for the whole family.

More info here.


Juneteenth and Father’s Day Celebration, Noon, June 18, Washington United Methodist Church, 206 W 2nd St.

Washington for Justice in partnership with the United Methodist Church will host a double-hitter event on the 18th. The public is invited to join together in a traditional Juneteenth potluck meal that will feature BBQ, and delicious sides typical of a Juneteenth celebration. The potluck will start at noon. Then at 1 p.m., there will be a premier showing of a video-taped interview with Mr. George DeVaughn, father of the pastor of the United Methodist Church, Anthony DeVaughn. This interview was taped last December and highlights the life and times of George who is now 93 years young. He has been a Washington resident for 40 years.

More info here.


June 15:

  • One Cedar Valley Juneteenth Entrepreneurship, Industry and Inclusion, noon to 3 p.m., Van G. Miller Adult Learning Center, 120 Jefferson St. Join us for a limited screening of Echoing Green’s “Unwavering: The Power of Black Innovation,” and an impactful session on industry and inclusion in manufacturing. RSVP required to info@onecedarvalley.com.
  • Juneteenth Network and Knowledge Meet-Up, 4-6 p.m., Lincoln Savings Bank, 360 Westfield Ave. RSVP required to info@onecedarvalley.com.

June 16: North End Cultural Center’s Black History Showcase, 6 p.m., West High School’s Kersenbrock Auditorium. The event is free and will feature Waterloo leaders, organizations and artists. A gospel tribute to many local musicians will celebrate their combined 500 years of music ministry in the community.

June 17: 28th annual Juneteenth Weekend Celebration: “Unity in the Community,” June 16-18, Sullivan Memorial Park, East Fourth and Adams (unless otherwise specified).

  • 10 a.m.-noon, Boys and Girls Club vs. City of Waterloo employees basketball game, Cedar Valley Sportsplex.
  • 10 a.m.-noon, 1619 Freedom School Liberation Library Grand Opening, 325 East Park Ave., Suite 204.
  • Noon, Peace Walk, Furgerson-Fields Park to Sullivan Park.
  • 1 p.m., Juneteenth Kick Off featuring Union Crusaders Drill Team, Belinda Creighton-Smith, Marvin Spencer Jr., and Felicia Smith-Nalls performance, music, games, food, and entertainment, including performances from dance teams and Hip Hop Literacy 319, as well as an obstacle course and Juneteenth trivia contest.
  • 4-6 p.m., performances by Ahmad Madlock, and Cinque Cullar and the Peace Troupe.

June 18:

  • Noon, Church services, Sullivan Park
  • 2-6 p.m., dance team performance, softball game, basketball game, Sullivan Park

More info here.


by Amie Rivers

If you enjoy stories like these, make sure to sign up for Iowa Starting Line’s newsletter and/or our working class-focused Worker’s Almanac newsletter.

Have a story idea for me? Email amie@iowastartingline.com, or find me on TwitterTikTokMastodon, PostInstagram and Facebook.

Iowa Starting Line is part of an independent news network and focuses on how state and national decisions impact Iowans’ daily lives. We rely on your financial support to keep our stories free for all to read. Find ISL on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *