Riverhead School District

In annual essay contest, Pulaski Street students commemorate Juneteenth

For the first time, Juneteenth is recognized this year as a state holiday following legislation signed last October. And the day “which commemorates the end to slavery and celebrates Black and African-American freedom and achievements” became a federal holiday as well Thursday.

While the significance of Juneteenth gained greater recognition across the nation last year amid the movement against racial inequality, it’s been an annual celebration at Pulaski Street School since 2007 thanks to the efforts of the East End Voters Coalition.

While President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1862 outlawed slavery, the freedom from slavery didn’t take place in Texas until June 19, 1865, when Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas to inform enslaved African-Americans that they were free from slavery, and that the Civil War had ended.

At Pulaski Street School, the students participated in an essay contest with four winners who were announced Wednesday. The theme of the essay was a diary or journal entry written from the point of view of a slave child learning that slavery just ended.

Robert “Bubbie” Brown of Riverside said he got the idea when he worked at Brookhaven National Lab, which had a Juneteenth celebration.

“I had never heard of it before that,” he said.

The East End Voters Coalition, which strives to get people to the polls on Election Day, had wanted to do something to commemorate Juneteenth, he said. Mr. Brown was a member of the coalition.

The winning essays this year were from Camila Garcia and Aceon Williams, who were studying remotely, and Landon Reiter and Braeden Messina.

“Something very unexpected happened today,” Landon wrote in his essay. “Around 2,000 soldiers arrived at the farm and announced that the war was over and the order of a proclamation from Abraham Lincoln more than three years ago, all slaves were free!”

Braeden wrote: “I just dropped my shovel I was holding and started singing and shouting, ‘We’re free, we’re free!’ ”

“For once, I can finally live peacefully just like a normal person would,” Camila wrote.

Aceon wrote his essay on what looked like crumpled parchment, and in a broken English, expressing happiness at being free, but wondering what to do next. 

About 100 fifth-grade students from four classes participated, Mr. Brown said. 

“I think the kids did an excellent job,” he said. 

Pulaski Street Principal Patrick Burke said Mr. Brown has been a liaison in the community every year.

“The Juneteenth essay contest is something that Pulaski Street School takes tremendous pride in, year after year,” Mr. Burke said.