Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Juneteenth - My 4th of July

(This is a reprint of an article I wrote for my newspaper back in June of 2002. Happy Independence Day to my people!

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"The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free."

Major General Gordon Granger

June 19, 1865 - Galveston, Texas

The celebrations that followed the reading of this proclamation signaled the birth of the African-American Independence Day tradition, known as "Juneteenth." It is one that has lasted over 100 years, and today is celebrated in countless cities across the United States. It was, without question, the most momentous "dividing time" for slaves, particularly in the state of Texas since they waited two and half years to taste freedom.

This new reality, for American slaves and slave-holders slowly but surely changed the face of this country, enabling those once considered chattel the rights that had been afforded whites since our country's inception.

What is very telling and what makes "Juneteenth" even more significant is that the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued by President Lincoln on Sept. 22, 1862. In that issuance, he warned those states continuing to rebel against the Union that they had until Jan. 1, 1863, to halt all rebellion and return to the Union or he would declare their slaves forever free.

In his letter to A.J. Hodges explaining his reasons for the proclamation, Lincoln stated, "I am naturally anti-slavery." However, as president of the United States, he explained, "In taking the oath, I understood too, that in ordinary civil administration, this oath forbade me to practically indulge my primary abstract judgment on the question of slavery."

A true politician, his drafting of the Emancipation Proclamation was purely a military measure designed to divest the Confederacy of its slave labor and increase the ranks of the Union Army.

Initially, Confederate states (my own South Carolina being one of them) totally ignored the proclamation. Coupled with the fact that it did not apply to those slave-holding states that did NOT rebel against the Union, history tells us that about 800,000 slaves were not affected by the Emancipation Proclamation. Were it not for the Civil War and the 13th Amendment, slavery may not have been outlawed.

Whatever the reasons, the impact of this news was seismic. Jubilation reigned on most plantations as slaves accepted the realization that freedom had finally come. While some slaves stayed, many left the plantations because to them, freedom was not freedom without the actual, physical liberation.

I never really knew why I loved strawberry soda so much, but it seems the origins may well be found in "Juneteenth" celebrations. It is said that strawberry sodas and barbecuing have become synonymous with these celebrations. It is through the barbecuing particularly, that today's participants can share in the spirit and aromas that their ancestors - those newly emancipated African-Americans - would have experienced during their ceremonies. As a result, the barbecue pit is often established as the center of attention at these celebrations.

African-Americans also celebrate the Fourth of July in honor of American Independence Day. But "Juneteenth" is more of a symbol of freedom for many, simply because blacks were not free when America obtained its independence. It is an historical "dividing time" reminding us of the triumph of the human spirit over the cruelty of slavery and demonstrates pride in the marvelous legacy of resistance and perseverance left us by our ancestors.

Effective Jan. 1, 1980, June 19 is celebrated as a legal state holiday in the state of Texas, and rightfully so. It is the only state in the union to do so. San Antonio enjoys a month-long celebration marked with guest speakers, picnics, parades and family gatherings.

The length of the celebration is not most important - that it is celebrated is. Therefore, it is absolutely fitting that we celebrate at the African-American Heritage Festival being held this weekend. Let it be a time for reflection and rejoicing, a time for assessment and self-improvement and for planning our future as full and equal citizens of the United States.
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"Juneteenth, A Novel" was a 40-year work-in-progress of Ralph Ellison, author of "Invisible Man." Thank you to his widow, Fanny (Ellison died in New York City in 1994) and John F. Callahan, his literary executor who edited it. I don't care what the young, "new," Black Democrats have to say really. I grew up with Ellison and I firmly believe in George Santayana's original quote, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

Hope the senator from Illinois doesn't try to continue to "work" the Black community by capitalizing on this day! Likening himself to Lincoln (who was allegedly anti-slavery and the politically expedient "freer of the slaves"), is so counter to "the heart of the matter!" Go to the Library of Congress and read all of Lincoln's letters and see what he really thought about our Black asses. Liberia ring a bell?

6 comments:

The First Domino said...

@Deb"Go to the Library of Congress and read all of Lincoln's letters and see what he really thought about our Black asses. Liberia ring a bell?"

That last paragraph was not part of the article was it? (:<>)

Great article. I enjoyed it. I was told that Texas was the last state to learn that slaves were emancipated, and that was on June 19.

The jubilation and celebration came late to the slaves there.

It might explain why the tradition began there. Is that what your research discovered?

In Texas we always celebrated Juneteenth. As you pointed out, it carried more significance for us than the fourth of July, and was looked forward to with more anticipation, despite the fireworks that came with the July fourth celebration.

Whites would celebrate the day with us as well, and was always seen at these occasions.

So I'm not surprised that the state of Texas made it a legal Holiday and that whites showed no real opposition to it, if any at all.

There was always enough red soda water and barbecue to feed a Small army. And on Juneteenth, no one chided you if drank more than should (soda water, that is), and ate more than you should.

It was truly a day of celebration, and a tradition that was never ignored.

Deb said...

the first domino...

"That last paragraph was not part of the article was it? (:<>)"

Wow! Smart AND funny - what a deal! :-)

No it was not, but it WAS a part of the newsroom discussion on the topic. Since I was writing FOR the newspaper, I wouldn't have said "asses" - not allowed. And seeing as, at the time, there was no "suis generis Black candidate" (talking heads, gotta love 'em!) running for president, using Lincoln as the carrot before the big stick he's sure to pull out and whack Black people with later, I couldn't refer to him. But if he had been, I would have. Minus the "asses" of course. :-)

Glad you enjoyed the article, but I guess I wasn't as clear as I thought in saying this, The celebrations that followed the reading of this proclamation signaled the birth of the African-American Independence Day tradition, known as "Juneteenth." or this, What is very telling and what makes "Juneteenth" even more significant is that the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued by President Lincoln on Sept. 22, 1862. In that issuance, he warned those states continuing to rebel against the Union that they had until Jan. 1, 1863, to halt all rebellion and return to the Union or he would declare their slaves forever free.

But yes, what you said is what I was trying to say.

It wasn't until moving to Texas in the early 90s and living there for 7 years that I ever heard of Juneteenth celebrations. Prior to that, like most of the Black residents in the small Florida town where I later wrote the piece, I'd never heard of the mass celebrations.

Having had the experience and then later living in that Florida town where Black pride was sorely lacking, I just wanted to share a meaningful piece of us with them, so I wrote about it. It was well-received.

Happy Juneteenth to you and yours and have a strawberry soda on me! :-)

The First Domino said...

@Deb: "Happy Juneteenth to you and yours and have a strawberry soda on me! :-)"

Thank you, and a cold, red soda water in a tall bottle for you, too.

You were clear. Sometime, I'm a careless reader.

Kitty Glendower said...

Excellent article.

Do you know, outside of Texas, I hear very little about Juneteenth.

I still think it is ironic and sweet that Earl Butz was indicted on June 19th. LOL!

Deb said...

kitty...Thanks! I know right? Hardly a peep about it, even today!

See, this is why I love blogs! I learn a lot of shit! :-) I will NOT front and tell you I had a clue about who Earl Butz was. When I got your comment, I looked him up. My Word!!!! I guess we HAVE come a long way Baby! At least most whites today are way more careful than Mr. Butz!

Now here we come, following in the footsteps of the "Burning House" with Andrew Young's crack, "Bill is every bit as black as Barack. He’s probably gone with more black women than Barack." Not as vile on it's face - but AS vile because, if you're Black (and he thought it was cool because he was in front of Black people), you know that real conversation.

I learned something else in my search - revisionist history still pretty much rules the day. I had to read a few articles before I got to his exact words. Most of them were glowing, pride pieces about his career as Nixon's USDA Secretary - glossing over the vile shit he said. Shrub doesn't have to worry, he'll come out of these last 8 years smelling like a rose in the next 20 years!

Thanks for dropping in and thanks for the edu-ma-cation! :-)

Kitty Glendower said...

I went straight to wiki. Not always the best place, but sometimes good enough. And I was wrong, he was not indicted on the 19th, he was sentenced. Even better.

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