Juneteenth is celebrated annually on June 19 to commemorate the day a Union army general and 2,000 troops brought news of the Emancipation Proclamation to the slave population in Texas, where slaveholders refused to acknowledge the proclamation or the end of the Civil War.

Riverhead Charter School has organized a Juneteenth protest march today in downtown Riverhead. The march is scheduled to start at 4 p.m. at the Peconic Riverfront and will proceed to Riverhead Town Hall, said Riverhead Charter School superintendent Raymond Ankrum.

The protest is one of many across the country to mark the Juneteenth holiday this year, which comes amid widespread unrest following the murder of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis May 25.

Often called America’s second Independence Day, Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, is an annual holiday celebrating the day in 1865 when a Union general arrived in Galveston, Texas with more than 2,000 troops and read aloud General Order No. 3:

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”

At that time, Texas slave owners refused to acknowledge the end of the Civil War, which came with surrender of the confederacy on April 9, 1865, or the Emancipation Proclamation, which was signed by President Abraham Lincoln on Sept. 22, 1862 and took effect on Jan. 1, 1963.

The proclamation ended the enslavement of more than 3.5 million American slaves, though it applied only to the states then in rebellion against the union. Slavery remained legal in the border slave states of Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri, where an estimated 500,000 were still held in slavery.

Slavery was not abolished in the United States until the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on Dec. 6, 1865.

Juneteenth has been celebrated in Texas since 1866 and the observance of the day spread across the South and the rest of the country. The celebration itself was an act of resistance in a land where blacks were prohibited from gathering in or even using most public facilities.

The Riverhead community has celebrated Juneteenth for many years — first at Stotzky Park and in recent years at Ludlam Park in Flanders. The celebration was canceled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The holiday, while widely observed in many places, has gotten more notice this year than ever before, coming as it does at a time when the issues of racism and racial injustice have been brought to the fore by nearly a month of nationwide protests. Many large companies added Juneteenth as a paid holiday this year. Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday signed an executive order making June 19 a paid holiday for state workers and announced he would submit a bill during the next legislative session making Juneteenth an official state holiday.

“One hundred and fifty-five years, I think, is long enough,” said Marilyn Banks-Winter, president and cofounder of the African American Educational and Cultural Festival. “Juneteenth symbolizes freedom and equality and it should be recognized,” she said.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.