Guest Spot: The entire North Fork should celebrate Juneteenth

As the gentle breeze of June flows through the North Fork, it brings with it a reminder of a significant moment in American history, Juneteenth. Observed on June 19, Juneteenth marks the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in the United States. It commemorates the day in 1865 when Union Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to announce the end of slavery, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, the presidential proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln. The proclamation stated that all of those enslaved in the Confederate states fighting the Union, including Texas, must be freed.

Due to the contributions by enslaved persons and generations of African Americans here on the North Fork, there’s ample reason for local residents to join in the festivities commemorating this pivotal day.

Juneteenth signifies not only the liberation of enslaved individuals but also the enduring struggle for equality and justice in America. For many years, Juneteenth was primarily celebrated by African Americans; in fact, it was only made a federal holiday in 2021 when President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act. 

One might wonder, “Why should the North Fork embrace Juneteenth?” 

The answer lies in the spirit of unity and inclusivity that Juneteenth embodies. The events of that day took place in Texas, where more than 250,000 enslaved people received long-awaited news of their freedom. They celebrated with a parade and picnics. The end of slavery in America shaped the course of American history and not just African American history. 

The North Fork, known for its rich tapestry of communities, can use Juneteenth as an opportunity to acknowledge the contributions of African Americans to the region’s heritage and to reflect on the ongoing journey toward racial equality. It is also an opportunity to acknowledge the history of slavery on the North Fork, which I researched along with four of my classmates at Greenport High School. 

We were all astonished to learn about this hidden and forgotten history. We learned of Kedar Derby, the first slave to own a home on the North Fork. . I was displeased to learn that they are now selling his house instead of preserving it like they do the majority of other historic houses on the North Fork. This helped me to come to a bigger realization: that by celebrating Juneteenth, residents of the North Fork can engage in meaningful dialogue about the past, present and future of race relations in America. 

This provides a chance to lift discussions about historic houses like Kedar Derby’s and what should be done with them. It’s a chance to promote racial healing and to educate ourselves and our children about the struggles and triumphs of the African American community, fostering empathy, understanding and solidarity.

Through cultural events and community gatherings — like the upcoming Juneteenth celebration and parade on June 15 in Greenport — these events can serve as a catalyst for positive change, inspiring us to confront systemic injustices and work toward a more inclusive society. It also provides an opportunity for locals and visitors to come together, share experiences and celebrate diversity. By recognizing Juneteenth as a federal holiday that should be celebrated by all Americans, we not only honor the resilience of those who fought for freedom but also reaffirm our commitment to building a community where everyone is valued and respected equally.

The history of slavery and African Americans on the North Fork is the history we forget to remember and the history we remember to forget. Celebrating Juneteenth on the North Fork is not just an acknowledgment of that history; it’s a declaration of our shared humanity and our collective aspirations for a better future. It’s a chance to come together as a community, to listen, learn and grow. So let’s raise our voices, raise our flags and raise our glasses in celebration of Juneteenth, a day of freedom, unity and hope. 

Faith Welch is a sophomore at Greenport High School. She aspires to be a lawyer for wrongfully incarcerated African Americans.