MANHASSET, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – The number of enslaved people who used Long Island to escape their chains may never be known, but on Juneteenth, a church that was used as a hideout honored its past and celebrated its future.
If only the white wooden walls, the cedar shake roof and the pews of pine could talk, what secrets would unfold.READ MORE: RFK Bridge Lanes Closed After Police-Involved Shooting, Trooper Struck By Vehicle
A humble church was one of a network of safe houses during the Civil War, and Harriet Tubman herself — a scout, spy and suffragette — was believed to have used the AME Zion Church in Manhasset for more than one of her dangerous missions rescuing enslaved people.
“The history of the Underground Railroad is intertwined with our church,” Rev. Keith Harris told CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan. “To recognize her life, legacy, and her contribution to our people as a race, and to America. So this is not just a part of history, it’s a part of our life, our current events.”
What is now known as Juneteenth is a fitting point of reference for those who serve roles like those 19th century abolitionists, who fought to eliminate violence and social death perpetrated on black people.
“It just gives me trembles to know that 200 years ago all that they had to do, to struggle,” said church member Tawanda Harris.READ MORE: Dr. Fauci Says He 'Would Not Be Surprised' If Omicron COVID Variant Is Already In US
Adjacent from the “freedom church” is what was called the Colored Persons Cemetery, McLogan reported. Laid to rest were local slaves, freedmen and Native Americans.
“I thought the middle passage. I thought about my ancestors. I thought about those that I can only feel in this graveyard. That I will never be able to redact and trace the history from where we have come,” said Bishop Lionel Harvey of Nassau County Minority Affairs.
Many are urging Juneteenth become a national holiday.
“We are not only here to celebrate and memorialize, remembering our history, but history is in the making,” said Rev. Jonathan Wharton of the Nassau County Council of Black Clergy.MORE NEWS: Nassau Police: Emya Johnson, 15, Reported Missing From Syosset After Visiting Family In The Bronx
The little church still stands as a symbol of the Underground Railroad, on their way to freedom, not yet fully achieved.