Imagine for a moment that you were an African-American in the 1800s, and after a lifetime of enslavement you learned you had finally been granted freedom.
This reflective exercise was given to the fifth-graders at Pulaski Street School, who were then asked to write first-person narratives detailing how they would feel if they were given that news. Those essays were then submitted as part of the Pulaski Street Juneteenth Writing Contest, according to Thelma White, a member of the East End Voters Coalition, which sponsors the competition.
Three students, Michaela Harris, Danny Squires and Hydeia Russell-Irving, were chosen as the contest winners and were invited to read their essays at this year’s 14th annual Juneteenth Day picnic at Ludlum Park in Riverside Saturday afternoon. Only Hydeia and Michaela were able to attend. The three winners also received $50 from EEVC, which also sponsored Saturday’s event.
Saturday’s activities also included a performance by members of the Butterfly Effect Project, musical acts and a speech by Riverhead attorney Harriet Gilliam.
“The main focus [of Ms. Gilliam’s speech] was on the accomplishments African-Americans have made in this country,” said EEVC Co-Chair Robert ‘Bubbie’ Brown. “It was about where Juneteenth Day originated and the rising growth and gain in momentum [recently]. It’s about making this a better place.”
Juneteenth Day is the celebration of the day slaves in the Confederate states learned of their freedom. President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves on Sept. 22, 1862. Many slaves in the south, however, didn’t learn about it until June of 1865. On June 19 of that year a Union general announced that the people of Texas were informed of the slaves’ freedom.
“It’s important that children of every race know what happened,” said Ms. White.