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Riverhead will celebrate Juneteenth this year over the weekend with events hosted by community organizations and the Suffolk Theater.

Juneteenth — also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day and National Independence Day— is the celebration of the day on June 19, 1865 when Union Army General Gordon Granger read the proclamation of freedom for enslaved people in Texas, which was the last state with institutional slavery after the Civil War ended. The celebration dates back to Texas the year after in 1866.

In 2020, Juneteenth was added to New York’s list of public holidays by a bill signed into law by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Last year, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act making June 19 a federal holiday.

The Riverhead Town Anti-Bias Task Force and the East End Voter Coalition, in partnership with Riverhead Free Library, will host a Juneteenth celebration Saturday from 1 to 2:30 p.m. at the library. 

The event will honor and celebrate Juneteenth with music, refreshments and entertainment. The event will feature a speech by Vanessa Williams, principal of the Manetuck Elementary School in West Islip and former assistant principal at Aquebogue Elementary School. The First Baptist Church Liturgical Dancers and the Butterfly Effect Project are listed as scheduled performers.

The event is free and open to the public. Registration for the event is available at Riverhead Free Library’s website.

The Suffolk Theater has two events this weekend celebrating Black music in honor of Juneteenth.

The theater will screen “Retrospective of the Heroes of Black Music” on Friday at 8 p.m.. The film, compiled by Joe Lauro from the Historic Films Archive, includes “electrifying and rare footage” of performances of iconic Black musicians, including never-before-seen footage of Jimi Hendrix, Sly & The Family Stone, Prince, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Stevie Wonder, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Michael Jackson, according to the Suffolk Theater’s website.

Tickets are $15 and can be purchased on the Suffolk Theater’s website.

The theater will also present “A Night of Soul: Honoring Juneteenth,” with Grammy-nominated singer Brian Owens on Sunday at 7 p.m.. The show is a “journey through the soul of America,” featuring music from prominent Black musicians including Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Sam Cooke and Dobie Gray.
Tickets range from $49-$59 and can be purchased on the Suffolk Theater’s website.

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