Juneteenth and the Forgotten: Haverstraw’s Underground Railroad

Written by Debbie Ali and Jared Rodriguez

It’s time to celebrate Haverstraw’s

Second Annual Juneteenth!

What is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the final end to slavery in the United States. In 1865, Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced that all enslaved there were free. Kenneth C. Davis, writer for the Smithsonian, explains that Juneteenth is “the fundamental promise of America being more completely realized; the day on which Thomas Jefferson’s rousing rhetoric finally rang true throughout American, for ALL Americans.” Although, it must be said that there is much to do to realize our Founders’ full dreams.

The Haverstraw African American Connection (HAAC) has been working hard to put together a Juneteenth celebration on Clinton Street unique to Haverstraw. The celebration is held at the African American Memorial Park, dedicated to those enslaved that toiled in industry at Haverstraw’s beginnings. Slavery in New York is not often discussed, but prior to the late eighteenth century, slave labor helped create the New York State we now know. In 1799, New York passed a Gradual Emancipation act that freed slave children born after July 4, 1799, but indentured them until they were young adults. In 1817 a new law passed that would free slaves born before 1799, but would not go into full effect until 1827. New York slavery is an odd remnant of British control, after the English seized control of New Netherland from the Dutch West India Company. Slavery was not a major factor of life in the Dutch-controlled settlement after 1650. Free people of color including Africans, Arabs, and local Native Americans did regular business with Company settlers. The Dutch Republic has a very long history of tolerance in Europe and in New Netherland, as long as folks were willing to do business. The Dutch do not escape ridicule for their barbarous slave trade and violent colonisation practices in Africa and the Caribbean islands.

11 original slaves were unloaded at New Amsterdam from the Dutch slaving post in Angola. These first 11 slaves were originally captured by the Portuguese along the West African coast and on the islands in the Gulf of Guinea. They were on a Spanish slave ship which would transport them to the West Indies when the West India Company’s navy had taken them as prizes. Many of the original New Netherland slaves have Iberian (Portuguese) names. They were given living quarters 5 miles north of the town of New Amsterdam, after which they were moved to a large building at the southern end of William Street next to the fort. The slave trade in New York did not flourish mainly because New Netherland did not become the agricultural powerhouse the Dutch hoped for. Instead, slaves were used to build necessary infrastructure associated with the colony and growing City at the Center of the World.

haac old pic
Virginia Norfleet and community in front of new home to Rockland County’s 1st African American Memorial Park

Why Juneteenth in Haverstraw?

Last year, Virginia Norfleet, Linda Epps, co-chairs of the Haverstraw African American Connection and dozens of community members held the First Annual Juneteenth celebration in Haverstraw. The event included a parade that exhibited negative words associated with being African American. Participants created a coffin,  put these hate words into the box, and buried them in a spiritual and moving ceremony.

In our most recent Community Spotlight with Norfleet, she described the event as “symbolic” to the emancipation and how African Americans have “overcome all that would have held us back.” The purpose of the event and HAAC is to make the broader public aware that New York, the Hudson Valley and Haverstraw itself did not escape the immoral perils of slavery. Acknowledge and push forward. We are, today, an inclusive community. We celebrate and respect our differences, but join with one another over our common history and our common bond: Haverstraw, N.Y.

Parade during Juneteenth. Powerful moment where box of hate words was carried throughout the streets and later buried.

How is Haverstraw Celebrating Juneteenth?

A weekend of celebration awaits Haverstraw beginning Friday, June 16 at 6:30 P.M. The Marcus Garvey-created African American flag will be raised at Haverstraw’s Village Hall for 30 days. Everyone can attend the flag raising, and enjoy the multicultural music event, Dancing Under the Stars, which begins immediately after the flag raising on Maple Avenue Downtown.

Images from the 1st Annual Juneteenth Celebration in Haverstraw, N.Y.

The main Juneteenth celebration will be on Saturday, June 17th from 3 -7 P.M. There will be tons of great music, fabulous food, artisan and craft vendors. The most exciting part about this year’s Juneteenth will be storytelling event. Community members have been rehearsing for weeks, perfecting their skills to recount the tales of African heroes. From civil rights activists, to sports players and political individuals, these powerful parts of history have paved the way of freedom. Haverstraw Life had the chance to sit in on some rehearsals, and the Haverstraw African American Connection has blown us away. Community members have captivated us in these stories. This year’s celebration connects the past to the present, and gives us hope for the future.

This year the HAAC has installed a sculpture titled The Ghost of the Brick Maker within the Memorial Park. Around 60% of African Americans worked the brickyards during the early 20th century. Knowing this, when the HAAC saw this piece artist John Murray created for the 2016 Haverstaw River Arts Festival has found a peaceful, safe home right along the Hudson River.

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We are so excited for the Juneteenth celebration this year in the ‘straw! Come on down next weekend to check it out!


Schedule of Events for June 16-17th, 2017 At a Glance :

Friday, June 16th:
  • Raising of the African American Flag at Village Hall. The flag will be raised for 30 days.
    • Time: 6:30 P.M.
    • Location:  New Main St., Haverstraw, N.Y.
  • Dancing with the Stars: A multicultural summer dance party under the stars for all ages!
    • Time: 8:00 P.M. to 10:00 P.M.
    • Location: In front of the Village Hall/Big Clock – Maple Avenue between New Main St. & W. Broad St.
Saturday, June 17th:
  • Juneteenth Celebration! Storytelling, Music, Food and Artisan Vendors for all ages!
    • Time: 3-7 P.M.
    • Location: Clinton St., Haverstraw, N.Y.
    • Download flyer here or view it below:

Flyer Juneteenth


Do you have an event or organization that you would like featured on Haverstraw Life? Let us know! Send us an e-mail at j.t.rodriguez@gmail.com.

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