Juneteenth became a federal holiday just a few years ago, on June 19, 2021, and ever since events around the Island to commemorate the day have grown.

The holiday recognizes a moment in history that took place 159 years ago on June 19, 1865, when slaves in Galveston, Tex. finally heard that they were free. President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had been decreed more than two years earlier, on Jan. 1, 1863.

On the Vineyard, the day’s events were spearheaded by the Oak Bluffs Association, local businesses and Island residents. Kahina Van Dyke, who owns and operates the Narragansett House in Oak Bluffs, helped start the tradition of a Juneteenth Jubilee with a celebration for friends and neighbors on her porch.

“Watching this blossom over the last four years just felt fantastic,” she said. “There’s a lot of people who are doing great things.”

Hollis Saul, Morgan Saul and Asantewaa Oyosimon. — Jeanna Shepard

Toni Kauffman, president of the Martha’s Vineyard chapter of the NAACP, counts herself as one of perhaps many who did not realize the full significance of Juneteenth until relatively recently. 

“So many people don’t have an understanding of Juneteenth and I was probably among them for a long time,” she said. “So now it is even more meaningful for me. When I think about, for two and a half years, slaves did not know they were free. That is a revelation and also puts it into perspective today. The uncertainty, the injustice and inequity — these are still present and it brings it all together, the past and the present. We still have a lot of work to do.”

Ms. Kauffman became president of the local chapter of the NAACP in 2022, having moved to the Island full-time in 2016. On Wednesday, she helped lead the Juneteenth flag raising at the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association.

“It was emotional and overwhelming in all respects,” she said.

It was also deeply personal as she recently began tracing her ancestral roots and discovered that her great, great, great grandmother had been a slave living in Howard County, Md.

Ms. Kauffman said more than 200 people attended the flag raising, a testament she felt to the power of the Island and, in particular, the Oak Bluffs community.

“The African American history on this Island, one we associate mostly with Oak Bluffs, is so important,” she said. “It has become my heart home.”

Union Chapel plays host to numerous events, including on Wednesday a panel on representation in the maritime industry, featuring Lieut. Commander Albion Llewellyn, an associate professor at Massachusetts Maritime Academy, and Patrick Nobrega, director of the Paul Cuffe Center for Inclusion at the academy. The panel was moderated by Gazette Media Group publisher Monica Brady-Myerov.

Son Scott Woodruff, father William Woodruff and cousin Endiah Woods walk down the beach. — Jeanna Shepard

The panelists discussed the demographic challenges of the industry, which is overwhelmingly white and male. 

Lieut. Commander Llewellyn, who has spent over 20 years in the field, said he has often been the only Black officer on a vessel or had his credentials doubted because of his race.

“Organizations should represent a microcosm of what the general population should look like, and I would say that is definitely not the case within the maritime industry,” he said.

The panelists pointed to systemic oppression, including legislation, which has led to a homogeneous maritime industry. They said that a major barrier to maritime representation is the Jones Act of 1920, which restricts non-U.S. citizens from serving on U.S. vessels. 

Mr. Nobrega said this is a challenge for international students hoping to pursue careers in the industry.

Lieut. Commander Llewellyn said outreach is key. The Paul Cuffe Center for Inclusion has identified target areas throughout the state for outreach, he said.

“We have these role models to show them that [they can] can do it,” he said.

Mr. Nobrega emphasized that outreach to underrepresented communities must also be accompanied by efforts to deal with institutional oppression.

“You have to acknowledge the painful barriers, the historic and systemic oppression that has kept those individuals potentially in a place where they can’t easily afford higher education,” he said.

Lieut. Commander Albion Llewellyn and Patrick Nobrega at a panel at Union Chapel. — Ray Ewing

Tracy Allen, an educator, traveled to the Island from Georgia with her husband specifically to celebrate Juneteenth. She said she is looking forward to using the knowledge she gained during Wednesday’s talk to help her students research potential career paths.

“We’re educators, so we’re always looking for information,” she said.

After the talk, many in attendance headed to Inkwell Beach for a Juneteenth-inspired beach party. Island Spirit Kayak provided free kayaking lessons, as well as lessons in water safety and paddle stroke techniques.

Local business The Lazy Frog provided a host of beach activities, including cornhole and a bean bag toss. Between games, guests enjoyed snacks courtesy of the Oak Bluffs Association.

Ms. Van Dyke says that the kind of community-wide collaboration necessary to make such a vibrant Juneteenth happen isn’t easy to come by, and is one of the things that makes the Vineyard so great.

“I don’t want to be any other place on Juneteenth other than right here,” she said.

Bill Eville contributed to this story.