Monday, June 18, 2007
Happy Juneteenth TransGriot readers!
So what the heck is Juneteenth? Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. Texas was the westernmost part of the Confederacy and President Lincoln's January 1, 1863 Emancipation Proclamation had little to no effect there until the Civil War ended in April 1865. On June 19, 1865 Major General Gordon Granger landed in Galveston, TX with a contingent of 2000 Union troops and read General Order Number 3 from the balcony of Ashton Villa.
"The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer."
The reaction of African-American Texans (and my relatives) ranged from stunned silence to pure joy at the news. Starting in 1866 the day was celebrated by us as a unofficial holiday with barbecue, strawberry soda pop, picnics, church services and parades and became known as 'Juneteenth'. While some white landowners interrupted Juneteenth celebrations demanding that their laborers return to work, others not only gave people the day off but made donations of food and money for these celebrations as well.
As African-Americans in Texas and elsewhere became property owners land was eventually either donated or money was pooled to purchase property for these celebrations such as Emancipation Park in Austin, TX. In 1872 under the leadership of Rev. Jack Yates a fundraising drive collected $1000 that purchased Emancipation Park in Houston. A similar effort in Mexia, TX (Anna Nicole Smith's hometown) resulted in the purchase of Booker T. Washington Park. It became the hub of Juneteenth celebrations in that part of the state in 1890 with as many as 20,000 people participating in them.
As African-American Texans migrated to other parts of the United States and the world they took the holiday with them. But at the turn of the 20th century interest in celebrating the holiday among the youth declined because of its connections to slavery. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950's and 60's revived the desire of African-American communities to celebrate our heritage and the holiday experienced a new surge of interest.
On January 1, 1980, Juneteenth became an official state holiday in Texas through the efforts of African-American state legislator Al Edwards (D-Houston). House bill 1016's successful passage and signature by Gov. Williams Clements (R-TX) in 1979 made Juneteenth the first emancipation celebration granted official state recognition.
Today there are 17 states that recognize the holiday. Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma and Wyoming. Juneteenth is also celebrated in other parts of the world, including China, Ghana, Israel and Japan.
So happy Juneteenth y'all. Gotta go to the store and get some strawberry soda pop and barbecue to chow down on.