On June 19, 1865, Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, and informed its black residents that they were free. News of the end of 246 years of slavery that began in Virginia in 1619 reaches the last enslaved man in America.
The Civil War ended last April, and two years earlier, in January 1863, President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation, liberating — at least on paper — the rebellious Southern states, including Texas. On—the enslaved people.
It took more than two years for the proclamation to reach the 250,000 enslaved men, women, and children in Texas.
In Galveston, their joy is celebrated, an event known as Juneteenth. In June 2021, 156 years later, President Biden signed legislation making June 15 a national holiday.
The holiday will be celebrated throughout the North Fork this weekend and Monday, June 19th. In a country where the teaching of American history has fallen victim to the so-called culture wars, using a national holiday to celebrate freedom is something all Americans can be proud of. It’s an affirmation that history is telling the whole story.
On Shelter Island, a former slave plantation in the 17th century, a “Roll of Names” ceremony will be held on Saturday, June 17, from noon to 1:30 pm at the Native African Burial Ground at Sylvester Manor, where More than 200 people of color are buried in unmarked graves. Years of research have uncovered the names of 50 of them.
In all, the North Fork Project’s research revealed the names of more than 360 people who were enslaved by local domestics in Southold and what later became the town of Riverhead.
In Greenport, the Juneteenth Celebration and Community Picnic will be held on June 17th from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the Clinton Memorial AME Zion Church, located at 614 Third Street. The church’s pastor, the Reverend Natalie Wimberley, has written a guest column in this week’s Suffolk Times and Riverhead News – looking back at what the holidays mean.
She writes: “The first major celebration was held by the freedmen of Galveston on June 19, 1866. The aptly named Jubilee was celebrated with food and wine at picnics where people Play games, listen to music, and dance. As well as celebrating freedom and cultural heritage, it’s also a day to learn about the importance of their rights as American citizens, grassroots politics, voter registration, and education. Juneteenth wasn’t a holiday until the 1890s The official name of the Galveston to commemorate the day when thousands of enslaved people in Galveston finally heard the news of ‘Free Forever’.”
In Riverhead, the League of Eastside Voters has been celebrating the holiday for years. One of the activities organized by the group is an essay competition for the students of Pulaski Street School. Fifth graders were asked to write a diary entry on June 19, 1865, as if they were young slaves in Galveston, riverheadlocal.com reported.
This year’s winning essay by Sara Martinez Acosta begins: “After all I’ve been through, I’m truly free, thank God! Now I don’t have to clean or clean for anyone Cook, and I’m free from my master. I can’t sell any more.”
We celebrate Juneteenth as a day to honor the freedom of all Americans. As we debate what “freedom” means in our nation today, perhaps thinking about those slaves who learned from Union Army General Gordon Granger that they belonged to no one anymore would reinforce the goodness of our past.