Seaford celebrated Juneteenth last Friday, as some 150 people from Nassau and Suffolk counties marched from Amityville Memorial High School to Cedar Creek Park. It was Seaford’s first Black Lives Matter march.
The 6.2-mile procession was organized by Ariana Levin, a rising junior at Walt Whitman High School in Huntington Station, who was joined by a dozen cosponsors from the school, she said. Levin and her colleagues publicized the event via social media.
The march was accompanied by a substantial police presence, and law enforcement was clearly prepared for trouble: Armored vehicles could be seen parked under trees beside the Seaford-Oyster Bay Expressway.
But despite the tension, the march was without incident. Still, “We had more hecklers than in most of the other marches I’ve been in,” said Susan Muller, of Wantagh, who characterized the hecklers as “white supremacists.”
Among the dozen marches Muller said she had taken part in, one on June 12, in East Meadow, which was marred by violence, was perhaps the most frightening, she said. Friday’s hecklers mainly “just yelled racist comments” along a route that ran through mostly white communities, she added.
Nevertheless, a row of marchers brought up the rear as a precaution against the police vehicles that have injured participants in other demonstrations, according to one of the volunteers, who declined to give her name.
A wide variety of homemade signs were on display. Most were emblazoned with “Black Lives Matter,” while others honored George Floyd, the Minnesota man whose murder on May 25 by a white Minneapolis police officer provided the impetus for nearly a month of marches and demonstrations across the county and the nation.
One of the most moving placards was created by Meghan Bonser and carried by Davia McIntosh, both of Amityville. It featured the names of hundreds of unarmed black men killed by white people. Emphasizing that the list was by no means comprehensive, Bonser, who is white, said “This isn’t everybody; I wrote until my hand didn’t work any more.”
The march made stops to pick up additional supporters at Massapequa High School and Seaford’s Tackapausha Preserve and Museum before wrapping up at Cedar Creek. As marchers waited at the preserve, Seaford moms Angela Murphy and Vera Acosta Tirado gave out snacks, bottles of water and hand sanitizer.
“No, there’s no charge,” Acosta Tirado said. “We’re just moms. We wanted to do something for the community.”
All of the participants wore masks, in contrast to other large public gatherings last weekend.
Juneteenth, observed each year on June 19, celebrates the day in 1865 when slaves in Texas became aware of the Emancipation Proclamation. The executive order, signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862, freed slaves in the 11 states of the Confederacy, but it was not until the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in December 1865 that slavery was outlawed in all states.
Because it was illegal to teach slaves to read and write, most were illiterate. Not knowing how to read a calendar or determine dates, newly freed slaves combined the name of the month with what they knew to be a common ending for dates.
Observance of the holiday was erratic, declining after the turn of the 20th century but increasing in popularity in the 1940s and 1950s. Texas declared it a “significant holiday” in 1970, according to the Juneteenth.com website.
Seaford’s population is more than 92 percent white. Blacks comprise fewer than 2 percent of its residents, according to datausa, a website pegged to the U.S. Census. But demonstrations across Nassau County, including a march in mainly white Wantagh the following day, have shown that the Black Lives Matter movement has energized residents across ethnic lines to push for social change in the shadow of the coronavirus crisis.