Riverhead celebrated the freedom of every man, woman and child in America with a Juneteenth picnic at Stotzky Park Saturday.
Juneteenth is the commemoration of June 19, 1865, the date when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger led a band of Union soldiers to Galveston, Texas, the last location in America to practice slavery. All slaves had been freed with the issue of the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, though it was about two and half years before slaves working in Texas learned that fact.
The Juneteenth celebration was brought to Riverhead 10 years ago by East End Voters Coalition co-chairman Robert “Bubbie” Brown of Riverhead. Mr. Brown said he had read an article about the nationally celebrated event and mentioned it to his colleagues at EEVC. The idea grew from there.
The celebration began as a parade in its first few years but then became a picnic complete with games, guest speakers and an essay contest.
EEVC members also hold a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event each year. Although the MLK event draws a larger crowd, Mr. Brown said the Juneteenth picnic is catching up.
“The event started small but is growing every year,” he said. “Last year we had about 80 to 100 people in attendance.”
The winners of the annual essay contest this year were: first prize, Jaliah Gordon; second prize, Jasmine Campbell; and a tie for third between Cirrus Davender and Nayeli Elizalde. Each student’s essay was written as if it were a journal entry from a slave in Texas on Juneteenth.
“I think the event is opening the eyes of students and adults alike,” said EEVC co-chairman Larry Williams of Riverhead.
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