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Southampton Village Holds First Official Juneteenth Celebration

Alexandra Talty

The "Concer's Way" road sign in Southampton pays homage to Pyrrhus Concer, a prominent Southampton Black whaler, philanthropist, and ex-slave. (Photo: Alexandra Talty)

Cries of "No Justice, No Peace" echoed around Southampton on June 19th as dusk settled on the village's Juneteenth peaceful protest following the morning's Juneteenth celebration.

The holiday - held in commemoration for the end of slavery in the United States - was celebrated officially for the first-time ever in Agawam Park. Originating in Texas, the event has been celebrated by Black Americans since the late 1800s. In recent years, particularly following countrywide protests over police brutality this year, there has been a renewed interest in the day.

Organized by Denise Smith, the occasion was both joyous and solemn, filled with music, dance and a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Offering a libation of blessed water, Pastor Leslie Duracell from Hamptons United Methodist Church shared the history of Juneteenth with attendees, asking them to imagine "what it felt like to have been told, 'you are now free.'"

Continuing she said, "The best way we can honor them is to continue to share their stories."

"You've got to unite these communities," said Denise Smith, 59, the organizer of the day's festivities. Smith also organized the George Floyd Memorial in Agawam Park two weeks earlier.

The Southampton resident said she was inspired to organize both events after seeing the video George Floyd's murder.

"That stuck with me for two days. [The George Floyd video] bothered me and bothered me," said Smith. "I have a husband, I have son. He's 31."

Smith decided to organize two events - a memorial for the man and a Juneteenth celebration. She first learned about Juneteenth at her historically black college Norfolk State University.

Attendees were given soul food picnic boxes, filled with fried chicken, collard greens, mac and cheese, potato salad and corn bread. Prepared by volunteers across Southampton, the food was "a symbol of the meal used to celebrate the formerly enslaved people," said Camryn 'CC' Highsmith, a Southampton High School graduate and Villanova student. Highsmith MCed the event and spoke about the importance of education on Black culture.

Voter registration and a historical explanation of what Juneteenth is from a New York Times article were also passed out.

"I'm glad to help," said Helen Gordon, a village resident who helped prepare and distribute the food. Describing the volunteers as "the legwork" she said "this is a celebration."

Echoes of the 1960s and civil rights movement were present throughout the ceremony, as Minister Teddy Turpin of the First Baptist Church performed songs, including a rendition of Bob Dylan's "Blowing in the Wind." Tanisha Highsmith sang "Lift Every Voice and Sing."

"This is the first Juneteenth Celebration in Southampton Village. It will not be the last," said Mayor Jesse Warren, who will issue a board proclamation declaring the Juneteenth an official village event. "This will be a tradition for years to come."

Trevon Jenkins spoke at morning celebration, stressing the importance of education and implored attendees to support Long Island's United Youth or LIUY. The grassroots organization is working to unite voices. The grassroots organization is working to across the island to unite voices though diversity events. They are also petitioning the Southampton School district to adopt an anti-racist curriculum and disciplinary practices.

"I am so proud of those kids," said Smith, at the evening's peaceful protest.

Led by youth, the evening's peaceful protest was organized by LIUY and went on for a few hours snaking through the village and eventually shutting down traffic on Highway 27 in front of 7-11.

Alexandra Talty is a Senior Contributor at Forbes. Based in Lebanon, she also writes for Outside Magazine, Playboy Magazine, Food Tank and Civil Eats, among others. She wrote an agricultural column for her hometown newspaper, The Southampton Press, for three years and is currently turning that reportage into a book about the birthplace of America’s small farms.

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