Friday, June 19, 2009

Happy Juneteenth, Peeps!

"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 personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.

The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere."

Union Major General Gordon Granger, Galveston TX, June 19, 1865

With the reading of General Order No. 3 from the balcony of Ashton Villa in Galveston, TX, a holiday and tradition amongst Black Texans was born that has grown into an international celebration.

Juneteenth became for Black Texans our Fourth of July celebration. In addition to the fireworks and parades, the early Juneteenth celebrations included prayer services, speakers with inspirational messages, readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, stories from former slaves, food, red soda water, games, rodeos and dances.

Black Texans pooled their money to buy emancipation grounds to celebrate Juneteenth.

Led by the Rev. Jack Yates, the first pastor of Houston's historic Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, Emancipation Park was purchased in 1872. Other freedmen purchased plots of land to host celebrations in other parts of the state that became Booker T. Washington Park in Mexia, TX and Emancipation Park in Austin.

As Black Texas traveled and moved to other parts of the United States and the world they took Juneteenth and its traditions with them.

Juneteenth was celebrated every year by Black Texans from 1866 until the mid 20th century. Increased focus on expanded civil rights protections and World War II occupied Black Texans thoughts and interest in Juneteenth waned until it was revived at the 1950 State Fair in Dallas.

As we rediscovered pride in our heritage in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement, the dormant Juneteenth celebrations and traditions were revived across the state in the 1970's.

Thanks to efforts by Texas state representative Al Edwards, in 1979 House Bill No. 1016 passed in the 66th Legislature, Regular Session. It declared June 19 as "Emancipation Day in Texas" and made Juneteenth an official state holiday effective January 1, 1980.

So on that note, Happy Juneteenth! I have some barbecue and cold strawberry soda waiting for me as I reread the inspiring words of the Emancipation Proclamation.

1 comment:

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