Paper Juneteenth flags and colorful paper stars on brown craft paper

Indianapolis Juneteenth Activities for the Whole Family

Published June 1, 2023

Every year on June 19th, we celebrate a very important holiday called Juneteenth. But it’s not just an important day in Black history—it’s also an important day in American history. It started all the way back in 1863, when American slaves were freed through the Emancipation Proclamation. But here’s what often gets lost in the shuffle: that declaration only freed the slaves on paper. They still needed to be freed in reality.    

The reason for this is that the Civil War was still going on at the time; the South was trying to secede from the rest of the country and didn’t want to honor this new law. So, the Northern Army advanced across the southern US in order to enforce the Proclamation, freeing slaves along the way. And on June 19th 1865, the North freed the last of the slaves in Texas. This is what we remember on Juneteenth. (You can read a little more about it in this article.)

All around the US, communities will celebrate Juneteenth with fun events and activities. Here are a few things you and your family can do at home or around Indy to kick off the celebration: 

Have a movie night featuring Black directors and actors. 

Have you ever watched anything directed by Ryan Coogler, Jordan Peele, or Shonda Rhimes? Have you ever seen historical classics, like The Tuskegee Airmen, Selma, or 42? Have your kids ever seen the Oscar-winning performances by Denzel Washington, Hattie McDaniel, and Will Smith? For some of these movies, parental discretion is advised, so you’ll want to do a little research to find something you’re comfortable letting your kids watch. But there’s tons of amazing content out there by Black directors, writers, and performers—so, get the family together, pop some popcorn, and have a movie night to honor Black creatives. 

Throw a Juneteenth get-together.

We’re already used to gathering with friends and family on holidays like Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, and the 4th of July. Why not have a party on Juneteenth? Whether you host a barbecue at your place or organize a picnic at one of Indy’s many public parks, a festive get-together is a great way to mark the occasion, see your inner circle, and celebrate freedom. And it’s an even better way of showing your kids by example how important and joyous this holiday really is.  

Support a Black-owned restaurant.

What’s a celebration without a great meal? Juneteenth is the perfect day to support one of Indy’s many, many Black-owned restaurants. His Place Eatery, at 30th and Shadeland, is a neighborhood staple serving soul food, BBQ, and all of the down home, southern classics. And if you’re in the mood for something a little less meaty, try Black Leaf Vegan by the canal downtown. They have everything from mac and cheese, to plant-based burgers, to quesadillas. And don’t forget about Mississippi Belle and all of the other Indianapolis gems on the Indy Star’s list of Black-owned eateries.  

Have a Black History game night.

Nothing says “family fun” quite like a rowdy game night. Do you have a free night this week? Are you ready to test your knowledge? Do you want to make learning fun for your kids? Jeopardy Labs developed a great version of Black History Jeopardy that you can play for free online. Some of the questions are pretty challenging, so your kids might have more fun playing the game by looking up the answers on the internet. That way, they’ll learn something new, earn points, and have fun without getting discouraged. 

Participate in Indy-area Juneteenth events.

A celebration is always at its best when it’s shared. And Indy has a ton of vibrant, festive events that are fun for the whole family!  

(NOTE – Many of these events are in the days surrounding Juneteenth. Be sure to check their event page for details.)    

  • Juneteenth Jamboree – Saturday 6/3
    This is a fun, super engaging, FREE event at the Children’s Museum, where your kids can enjoy music, storytelling, and a hands-on art workshop. They can also participate in trivia, the creation of a mural, and a museum-sponsored giveaway. Tickets are free, but you do need to RSVP.
  • Juneteenth Foodways Festival – Friday 6/16
    In 1889, Dolly Johnson became the first Black chef to work in the White House. Indiana’s own Benjamin Harrison was president at the time and decided he didn’t want the French chef who had been cooking for the previous presients—he wanted Dolly’s renowned, all-American cooking. The 2nd annual Juneteenth Foodways Festival, which takes place at the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, honors Dolly’s achievements, and the achievements of Black chefs throughout the country. General Admission is free, food is available for purchase, and over 20 food vendors will be serving their latest and greatest.
  • Indy Juneteenth Festival and Parade – Saturday 6/17
    Back for the 6th straight year, this is an absolute “can’t miss” Indy event! Head over to Military Park on Saturday June 17th for a parade that starts at 10am, and then stay for the festival starting at noon. You’ll enjoy a full day of festivities and camaraderie. But be sure to come back on Monday for the fireworks show and celebration.

Juneteenth is an exciting celebration of freedom, fun, and Black history and achievement. So, check out some community events, or organize a few activities of your own. Juneteenth only comes once a year. But if you share the tradition with your kids, the magic can last for generations.

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