GENESEO, N.Y., June 19, 2023 – Livingston County is proud to celebrate Juneteenth as the County reflects on the importance of the holiday’s meaning on a national level as well as its connections to local communities.
Juneteenth, once celebrated as Emancipation Day, has been marked by Livingston County residents for generations, reaching back to the holiday’s origins at the end of the Civil War.
On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, outlawing slavery in the Confederate states. On June 19, 1865, those enslaved in Texas learned of their emancipation. Emancipation Day was widely celebrated among Black Americans from the post-Civil-War era onward. In the Livingston County area during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Emancipation Day was typically celebrated in August.
According to the Livingston County Historian’s Office, Portage was a popular Emancipation Day picnic spot in the 1870s. Nunda’s Richard Gay often spoke at the ceremonies. After escaping slavery, Gay served as a cook for General Ulysses S. Grant before coming north with the 1st New York Dragoons.
Avon, Caledonia and nearby Scottsville also hosted large annual affairs through the 1910s that drew hundreds from across the region. Activities revolved around a picnic, with sporting events and speeches. Performances by local musicians added to the celebratory atmosphere with dancing often extending into the evening.
In 1903, Stella Peterson, one of the first Black women to graduate from the Geneseo Normal School and daughter of well-known Civil War veteran Edward Peterson, read the Emancipation Proclamation at the picnic held at Garbutt, near Scottsville in Monroe County. By the 1930s, Emancipation Day celebrations had mostly shifted to Rochester where Livingston County residents continued to join in the festivities.
In 1994, in the spirit of its earlier Emancipation Day celebrations, Rochester joined other New York State cities when it put on its first “Juneteenth” celebration.
Juneteenth became an official New York State holiday in 2020, a federal holiday in 2021, and a Livingston County holiday this year. Today, groups in the Rochester area collaborate on Juneteenth events, offering music, food, parades, dance performances and vigils that celebrate Black heritage and culture.
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About Livingston County:
Founded in 1821, Livingston County, N.Y., is comprised of more than 61,000 residents in 17 towns located across 631 square miles of the Finger Lakes region.