Music, local vendors and families filled the area around the BlackRock Center for the Arts in Germantown for an annual Juneteenth celebration.

Mia and Ras Lidj King live in Germantown and run Raemea King D’Zions. It is their second time at the Juneteenth event, where they showcased their business, which sells items like earrings, jewelry from Ghana, women’s clothing and hats.

It is the county’s 27th Juneteenth celebration. Juneteenth recognizes June 19, 1865, the day when enslaved people were declared free in Texas more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

Gregory Wims, Delegate and Upcounty Regional Services Center Director, noted many enslaved people did not know they were freed until two years later — “so this is very important.” Wims said when enslaved people were freed, his great-great-grandfather worked as a freed man and bought 10 acres of land in the area — “I go back seven generations in Montgomery County in a Black community called Stewarttown. It’s surrounded by Montgomery Village now,” he said.

Sandy Spring Slave Museum exhibit

The Sandy Spring Slave Museum and African Art Gallery had an exhibit inside BlackRock that provided background about Juneteenth and looked back further because “African American history does not start with slavery,” said Museum Co-Director Dr. Troy Boddy. The exhibit also includes information up until modern times. Boddy said, “it’s just important to tell our story in its fullness.”

“For me this really is a way to re-center Black ancestors and the legacies and practices and the extreme risks that they took in order to care for one another and really re-define what we mean when we talk about freedom and liberation,” said artist Jessica Valoris, who had an installation in the Kay Gallery at BlackRock called “Echoes of the Unmappable.” The exhibit highlights the strategies enslaved people used to free themselves and create networks of care for survival, and to pave the road toward emancipation.

County Council President Andrew Friedson said addressing the audience outside, “in some communities across this country right now at this moment, there are efforts to erase Black history. But here in Montgomery County we are embracing Black history and we are making sure that we are making progress together by acknowledging our history.”

“This is really important to me, for my family, for my people, but not even just us — for everybody to explore who we are and to know our history, to know our culture and just embrace us,” said Melonie Dunston, owner of MeloGravity and Family Customs, a health and wellness boutique based in Germantown.