Juneteenth: A history lesson

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It took two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was enacted in 1863 for Black and African Americans in the United States to actually be freed from slavery. June 19, 1865, Juneteenth, is the day that the news of liberation reached Galveston Texas, representing Black Independence Day to many Americans. It wasn’t until recent years, however, that there was public education and attention paid to the holiday.

Ann Molina, the Town of Highlands senior coordinator and executive director of The Center of Highland Falls said that she was not aware of Juneteenth’s significance until about ten years ago, when a local resident, the late Laura Lanier, who had been stationed in the south when on active military duty, returned to Highland Falls, and presented Juneteenth programs with Afro-centric themes, food, customs and shared history.

“Recognizing Juneteenth is not rewriting history, which I hear often when African American history is learned,” said Molina. “It is learning more of a complete history that shares the real foundation of the United States and explains some of the behavior we still live with today. It is significant that I was educated entirely in New York State, K-12, undergraduate, and graduate school, and was never exposed to Juneteenth.”

Public recognition about the holiday has increased in recent years; several states have recognized it as an official holiday and community events have helped spread awareness. On October 14 of 2020, Juneteenth became an official holiday in New York State. On Thursday, President Biden and Vice President Harris signed legislation declaring June 19 as a national holiday.

Groups like Celebrating the African Spirit in Poughkeepsie have worked tirelessly during recent years to promote the history and commemoration of enslaved and free Black people in local communities. Peter A. Bunten, Chairman of the Mid-Hudson Antislavery History Project said that “Juneteenth is an opportunity for Americans to understand this often-neglected and still little-known part of our history.”

Tyrone King, Town of Highlands Councilman and 30-year Army veteran who helped establish Juneteenth as a bonafide celebration in Orange County said, “this is not a Black celebration; this is an American celebration of freedom. Until we all are free, this nation is not truly free.”

Below please find a list of some local Juneteenth events taking place:
Saturday, June 19th: Juneteenth Underground Railroad Freedom ride. MotorCycles start in Port Jervis. The route is Goshen, Monroe, Newburgh to Highland Falls for Parade, Featuring National Service Project Founder Colonel (Retired) Chris Holshek

  • Saturday, June 19th: Juneteenth Outdoor Music Festival – Memorial Park Newburgh (Newburgh Mayor Torrance Harvey Keynote Speaker)
  • Saturday, June 19th: Juneteenth Old School Music After Party 8 p.m. to midnight at the American Legion, Featuring DJ Mizz Official