File photo: Denise Civiletti

Juneteenth is now an official public holiday in New York State.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law this week designating June 19 a holiday.

The new law celebrates Juneteenth, a day that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States.

Officially observed each year on June 19, African American Emancipation Day marks the arrival of Union Gen. Gordon Granger in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865 — with 2,000 troops — to read aloud the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln nearly three years earlier, on Sept. 22, 1862.

Slavery was officially ended Jan. 1, 1863, the effective date of the proclamation. Word of the emancipation was slow to make its way to slaves across the country, and their bondage continued in spite of their legal emancipation, especially in the states of the Confederacy.

Granger arrived in Galveston to take possession of the state and enforce the emancipation of its slaves.

Riverhead has celebrated Juneteenth since 2001. The celebration was initiated by the East End Voters Coalition.

Coalition co-chairman Robert “Bubbie” Brown inspired
the organization to sponsor a Juneteenth celebration, according to founder and co-chairman Larry Williams. The group held a Juneteenth celebration at Stotzky Park for many years. The event moved to Ludlam Avenue Park “five or six years ago,” Brown said.

“It’s a great thing, educationally. I’m not just talking about white people. I’m talking about everybody that don’t know about Juneteenth,” Brown said in an interview today.

“There are so many chapters in our history that we don’t know about,” Brown said.

“It’s very important that people know about it, that people ask ‘What is Juneteenth?’ and learn about it,” he said.

“It’s important to me,” Brown said. “It brings to my consciousness the fact that it’s another instance of being cheated out of something we deserve. Two and a half years in slavery unnecessarily. It’s a debt that will never be paid,” Brown said.

The governor said he was proud to sign the legislation into law.

“This new public holiday will serve as a day to recognize the achievements of the Black community, while also providing an important opportunity for self-reflection on the systemic injustices that our society still faces today,” Cuomo 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.