With the growing recognition of Juneteenth as a day to commemorate a moment in American history that resonates loudly with Black people, Inwood resident Ilyassha Shivers, along with his family and his church, the Wings of Faith Outreach Ministries, will hold a celebration on Saturday at Inwood Park.
“My father grew up in the South, and in South Carolina it wasn’t a big, major holiday,” Shivers said. “When he migrated north, it lost some of its significance. There was a lack of learning about it. Now, with it coming to the forefront, we wanted to mak e sure it becomes an annual event.”
Juneteenth — a combination of the words June and nineteenth, and also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, and Emancipation Day — is a holiday celebrating the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the U.S.
The day was originally celebrated in Texas, on June 19, 1866, the first anniversary of the day when African-Americans there first learned of the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, amid the Civil War, which declared more than three million slaves living in the Confederate states to be free.
It wasn’t until Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, that the state’s residents finally learned that slavery had been abolished. The former slaves immediately began to celebrate with prayer, feasting, song and dance.
The holiday was commemorated with prayer meetings and by singing spirituals and wearing new clothes to represent newfound freedom. Within a few years, African-Americans were celebrating Juneteenth in other states, making it an annual tradition.
“It’s an African-American celebration but an American holiday, in spite of everything that has taken place,” Shivers said, noting the institutional racism that still prevails in the U.S. “We will be always be Americans — that’s part of our culture. We want to do our part to do better and continue to build on the legacy they created,” he added, referring to previous generations.
Last year, New York state recognized Juneteenth as a holiday for state employees. In October, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation officially making it a state holiday. In total, 47 states and the District of Columbia recognize Juneteenth, and the festivities include religious services, speeches, educational events and family gatherings. On June 17, President Joe Biden signed legislation that makes Juneteeneth a federal holiday.
“It means to celebrate freedom for our ancestors and freedom as African-Americans who were enslaved,” said Simone Smikle, an elder with the Wings of Faith in Inwood. “We celebrate being able to vote, to make choices and live freely.”
On Friday, middle and high school students will take part in a Juneteenth program at the Five Towns Community Center in Lawrence. As part of the Community Coalition of the Five Towns, Valley Stream and the Rockaways, the community center is helping to produce a video on the holiday.
“It is a bittersweet acknowledgement of the continued struggle of Black Americans,” said community center Executive Director K. Brent Hill, who recalled learning about Juneteenth reading Ebony magazine. “Most important, it is American history, and all facets should be taught, as we can only learn from the challenges we face together.”
In Inwood Park, on Bayview Avenue in Inwood, there will be barbecue, spoken words, dancing, a basketball shoot-around, face painting and balloons on June 19, Shivers said, adding that he wanted it to be “more so a celebration.”
“In a year where we are revisiting history and examining history,” he said, “it is important that we remember and teach, so we can move forward and as a nation, but never forget the path that has brought us to the present.”
Story reflects the update that Juneteenth is now a federal holiday.