The Juneteenth holiday was celebrated Sunday in Eisenhower Park in East Meadow. "Juneteenth means freedom, that's what it means. It means that we are here — Black people, we're not going anywhere," said attendee Taylor Gordon, of Coram. "And this is a day that we can celebrate something that really means something for us." Credit: Jeff Bachner

Hundreds celebrated Juneteenth Sunday at East Meadow's Eisenhower Park, where many said the holiday that marked the effective end of slavery also serves as a contemporary call for racial equality.

Juneteenth marks the date of June 19, 1865, when Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to tell slaves they were free, two months after the end of the Civil War and two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

This year, the holiday comes nearly a month after the massacre in Buffalo where a white gunman killed 10 Black people at a supermarket. Since then, Erika Hill said a couple of her friends now pray before they go grocery shopping.

“I don't know how free I necessarily feel when people are being shot at in grocery stores,” said Hill, of Baldwin. “That doesn't feel like freedom if you have to walk around wondering if somebody, even in your own community, wants to kill you for no reason other than the fact that you're Black.”

Hill, who participated in several protests on Long Island in the summer of 2020 and one in Washington, D.C., after the police killing of George Floyd, said the holiday is another reminder that the work for racial equality is far from over.

“This is a day to celebrate because of what it actually means,” she said at Sunday's event. “It's also a day to remember that there's still more work to do because there's still people that see my skin as a target.”

To Hill and others, the day goes beyond celebration.

Kevin Satterfield learned about Juneteenth in 1992 when he started attending law school at Texas Southern University in Houston, less than an hour drive north of Galveston.

Texas was the first state to declare Juneteenth as an official holiday in 1980. It didn’t become a federal holiday until last year, when President Joe Biden signed legislation two days before Juneteenth. This year, the holiday is observed on Monday because June 19 fell on Sunday.

“Juneteenth symbolizes the freedom of African Americans and hope of a new beginning,” said Satterfield, president of Amistad Long Island Black Bar Association, as he paused setting up a table among three dozen vendors.

“The celebration is to remember the past,” he said. “And always to remember that the struggle for freedom and democracy is never-ending.”

Sunday’s event was hosted by Joysetta & Julius Pearse African American Museum of Nassau County, the Nassau Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., the Nassau County Guardians Association, Inc., and Nassau Legislators Siela Bynoe (D-Westbury), Carrié Solages (D-Lawrence) and Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport).

During the afternoon’s program of music and dance, children played on the grass while adults who donned shirts in colors of red, black and green — the colors of the flag that symbolizes Black liberation — sat in lawn chairs. Some rushed closer to the stage when the Uniondale High School choir performed, holding up phones to record videos and swaying to the songs.

Julius Pearse, who became Freeport’s first Black police officer in 1962 and is in his 80s, sat in the front watching the performance. Pearse said his great-grandfather was a slave in Marlboro County, South Carolina.

“The day brings home that reality to me,” he said. “Although the world is not perfect, we’ve made progress.”

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