Juneteenth is a time for reflection, celebration


Observed every year on June 19, Juneteenth marks a pivotal moment in American history — the end of slavery here in the United States.

While many of us might associate the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln at the height of the Civil War in 1863 with the abolition of slavery, the horrific practice itself didn’t end until June 19, 1865, when the last enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, learned they were free.

Juneteenth signifies not just the end of slavery, but the triumph of freedom over oppression, resilience over despair.

Living on Long Island, we might feel removed from this piece of history — geographically and culturally. It was the South that had slaves, after all. But it wasn’t always that way.

Even before New York was New York, the Dutch West India Co. “purchased” 11 men from Africa they wanted to use in their New Amsterdam colony for both public projects and defense, according to research by Hofstra University. At first, these men were considered employees of Dutch West India, but it wasn’t long before their roles were redefined as “chattel property” and “servants for life.”

By the time the Colonies went to war for their independence, 20,000 slaves were kept in New York — more than all of the New England colonies combined.

No one should ever own another human being. Full stop. And the lessons of Juneteenth teach us that freedom is not merely the absence of chains, but the presence of opportunity, equity and justice. Despite the progress made since 1865, we continue to witness disparities in education, employment and housing — issues that affect communities here in Nassau County as well as nationwide.

By honoring Juneteenth, we acknowledge these challenges, and renew our commitment to addressing them.

Juneteenth also provides an opportunity for education and reflection. It’s a period for all of us — regardless of race — to learn about the deep-rooted history of slavery and its lasting impacts. And it’s a reminder of delayed justice and the continued struggle for equality.

Long Island may seem far from the fields of Texas, but our own history — as part of the greater New York City area — is interwoven with stories of African American resilience and contributions. From the early African American settlements in Sag Harbor to the cultural impacts of influential figures like Jackie Robinson — who lived for a number of years in neighboring Queens — and the legacy of the Harlem Renaissance spilling into our neighborhoods, Long Island has its chapters of African American history that reflect broader national narratives of struggle and achievement.

Juneteenth is more than a historical milestone. It’s a living testament to the enduring spirit of freedom and equality. For all of us here on Long Island, embracing Juneteenth means recognizing our shared history, acknowledging our ongoing struggles, and celebrating the contributions of African Americans to our collective heritage.

Let us use this week to reflect, educate and unite — ensuring that the legacy of Juneteenth continues to inspire and guide us toward a more just and inclusive future.