When Denise Smith organized a celebration of Juneteenth last year at Agawam Park in Southampton Village, the holiday was still an unofficial one, though just as important as ever. About two weeks later, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo formally declared Juneteenth a state holiday — and other states and municipalities eventually followed suit, up through Thursday's official national declaration — so heading into this weekend, there's a lot to celebrate.
"The goal on Saturday is the continual evolution of Juneteenth, to make it bigger and better, and to teach people," Ms. Smith, a lifelong resident of Southampton and member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, said this week.
Juneteenth, which is short for "June 19th," marks the day in 1865 that federal troops were sent to Galveston, Tex., to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation and free the last of the enslaved Black people there. It is also known as Jubilee Day, Freedom Day, or Liberation Day, and the understanding of its significance has not always been universal throughout the United States.
"I knew there was a Juneteenth because I went to a historically Black college and they taught me about Black history," Ms. Smith said. "I'm doing it to make people aware."
Last year's festivities were meaningful but brief: a few speeches and prayers, song, dance, and calls for racial equity and justice. This year, Ms. Smith pulled out all the stops. There will again be speeches, prayers, and musical and dance performances, but there will also be recognition of Shinnecock heritage and of veterans and youth who have made an impact. And there will be a celebration of the "divine nine," referring to the nine sororities and fraternities that have stood the test of time at America's historically Black colleges and universities.
Saturday's festivities start at 10 a.m. at Agawam Park off Job's Lane. C.C. Highsmith of Southampton, who is in her senior year at Villanova University, will again be the master of ceremonies. Soul food will be served, there will be tables set up with information on East End organizations such as the Retreat and the Butterfly Effect Project, and vendors representing Black-owned businesses from near and far will be selling their wares. Nick Epley, a Southampton Elementary School teacher, will set up his students' "community heroes" project for display.
"African-American history is a very big part of American history that is overlooked, and it is my vision to share the beauty of our culture with the community," Ms. Smith said in an announcement.