A Juneteenth celebration in Southampton Village’s Agawam Park Friday morning began with Mayor Jesse Warren declaring the day, which marks the end of slavery in the U.S., an official holiday in the village.
“We’re very proud to announce that our Southampton Village board of trustees passed a resolution to make Juneteenth an official village holiday,” said the mayor.
Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order recently recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday for state employees, in recognition of the official emancipation of African Americans in the country. He is also advancing legislation to make Juneteenth an official state holiday in 2021.
Emcee for the celebration was CC Highsmith, who is studying to be a doctor at Villanova University and is a member of Long Island United Youth – which is working to “educate local youth on black history, focusing on black lives matter movement.” She began by reading the Emancipation Proclamation.
During the service, local clergy and community members spoke, and there was music and dancing. Tanisha Highsmith, CC’s mother, performed a moving selection of the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” The crowd joined in to sing: “Out from the gloomy past. ‘Til now we stand at last.”
Soul food was given out to attendees who brought blankets and beach chairs to watch. The food included collared greens, potato salad, mac and cheese, corn bread, and sweet potatoes. It was “a symbol of the meal we use to celebrate the formerly enslaved,” CC said. “As we want to educate you, we want you all to embrace our culture.”
Dorothy Dennis of the Shinnecock Indian Nation spoke. In “another week I will be 89,” she said. “When I graduated I was not allowed to go in a hotel in Washington D.C. and I did not think I would live to see a black president. I’m thankful that I lived that long.”
She recalled a story about one of her sons who “had worked hard to buy a new bicycle. And the police saw him on the street riding it. They arrested him because they said ‘No one from Shinnecock could afford a new bicycle.’ I went up there and told them a few things.” She was able to prove that he had worked hard to purchase that bike. “I’m so thankful that the people are still fighting for freedom. And it will never end, but I hope it will.” She thanked everyone who came out to show support.
“Ignorance does not mean that you’re a bad person, or that you are senseless, it just means you are not educated on that topic,” said Trevon Jenkins, another member of Long Island United, who spoke and informed the crowd about a protest that is planned for Friday evening in the village. The protest for “Black History Matters” will happen at 6 PM.
The protest will be “peaceful, very, very peaceful,” said Jenkins. “We just want you guys to understand what we’re doing is no longer saying we’re going to make a change. We’re actually going to start making the change.”
Lawrence Street, the President of the NAACP Eastern Long Island branch, spoke, as well. “Power to the people. Let me say it again. Power to the people!” he said. “This is our Independence Day.”
“Our president wanted to have a rally on this day. Just something to think about,” he noted of President Donald Trump’s planned campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which was rescheduled for tomorrow. Tulsa was the home of Black Wall Street, which was burned down by a white mob nearly 100 years ago.
“The struggle is not over. There is still a cover, a shadow of racism that exists. They are still killing us,” Street said.
“I need to acknowledge the black women,” he continued. “Because they’re the most abused, unprotected, disrespected, but they were the backbone of our family and our struggle that kept us together. Black women, you rock!”
Reverend Tisha Williams of the First Baptist Church in Bridgehampton was the final speaker.
She also called out President Trump, declaring his failures are “his racist, sexist, terrorism . . . and outright lies have fueled the flames of the anti-black sentiment that is carved into the very foundations of the American experiment and that has consistently simmered beneath the façade of this city on a hill.”
She named some of the names of the victims of police brutality: Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Rashad Brooks, as recent additions to the “red record of horror fragrantly visited upon African America.”
“From the bombing of our churches, to the torching of our homes, to the lynching of our children,” she spoke, while holding back tears. “Blacks have been subject to white violence for too long and we will not take it anymore.”