The National Museum of African American Music drew crowds from Harlem, Atlanta and all around Tennessee for its inaugural Juneteenth Block Party on the rooftop of the Fifth and Broadway development in Downtown Nashville.
“I didn’t come here just to celebrate music, didn’t come here just to celebrate African American history, but to do both,” said Mellissa Craig, who travelled from Atlanta to spend her Saturday at the museum.
Juneteenth hasn’t always been a widely celebrated holiday in Nashville. But the popularity of the event, which commemorates the end of slavery, has been growing here. And now, the country’s first and only museum centered on Black music and culture acts as a beacon, drawing people to the city.
Lewis Long came from Harlem, New York. He helped curate some of the museum’s art and said there were many reasons to spend the holiday in Nashville.
“It’s a confluence of things, right? It’s the museum, it’s Juneteenth, it’s a federal holiday,” Long said.
His friend Hillary Dunson came from Sarasota, Florida, and says that every person of color should come visit the NMAAM to see the ways that Black music has impacted this country.
“Music by Black artists is American music,” adds Long. “So all Americans should feel this as a place of home, heritage and learning.”
Thadijah Burks from Antioch said she normally wouldn’t celebrate Juneteenth on Lower Broadway. She came to the NMAAM with her 2-year-old son, her sister and her brother.
She said she was trying to take Juneteenth to celebrate how far Black people have come, yet also leave space to think about how far there still is to go.
“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — that’s the work that still needs to be done,” she said. “Because you still have children who are not being educated properly. You have young men who are getting arrested for bogus charges. It’s equality. We still have to work on it.”
Mimi McCarley of the group Nashville Is Not Just Country Music is part of the fight to make the city a more equitable place for musicians of color. She came to the NMAAM to celebrate Black Music Month and Juneteenth with her son and daughter.
She says having the space at the museum to hold events like the block party makes Lower Broadway a more inclusive place.
“This is Music City,” she says, “and all are welcome.”