America, Say Hello to Juneteenth — Our Newest National Holiday

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My first blog about Juneteenth was submitted and published on June 11, a week before Juneteenth 2020. That blog about the history of Juneteenth and its predictably steady growth in observations and celebrations turned out to be prescient. It took a while, but on January 1, 1980, Juneteenth became an official Texas State holiday. The bill marked Juneteenth as the first emancipation event given official state recognition. In 2020 Juneteenth was also enjoying growth throughout America. A number of local and national Juneteenth organizations had taken their place alongside older organizations — all to promote and cultivate knowledge and appreciation of African American history and culture. Juneteenth’s future seemed secure as the number of cities and states creating Juneteenth committees and events continues to increase, until finally on June 15, 2021, the Senate passed a bill to make Juneteenth, June 19th, a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. President Biden, having returned to the White House from his first trip abroad as president, signed the bill creating a federal holiday to commemorate Juneteenth, the day marking the end of slavery in Texas. Because June 19 falls on a Saturday this year, most federal employees will get this Friday off. The newly minted Juneteenth commemorates when the last enslaved African Americans learned they were free. And to think my blog made it happen … Well of course it didn’t although it was a nice thought to me, even if fallacious. At least “fallacious” will reenergize fading old men’s memories of its cousin, the sexual activity for which “fallacious” was named. Wasn’t it?

A bit of late news on Juneteenth follows but nothing new on “fallacious.”
NYT Isabella Grullón Paz June 16, 2021 Updated 6:08 p.m. ET
Here’s a brief guide to what you should know about the newest holiday: According to a new Gallup survey, more than 60 percent of Americans know “nothing at all” or only “a little bit” about Juneteenth, the holiday celebrating the end of slavery in the United States. The survey, the results of which were released on Tuesday, June 15th, found nearly half supported teaching the history of Juneteenth in public schools; 35 percent favored making June 19 a federal holiday, but only a quarter of respondents said they were opposed to the idea. Also, on June 15th, the Senate unanimously approved legislation to make Juneteenth a legal public holiday. When did an unanimous Senate vote last happen and on what? A $10,000 annual Senatorial clothing allowance?

All you Texians over sixty raise your hand if you can tell the class what Juneteenth is. OK, all you non-Texians over sixty if you know about Juneteenth raise your hand. Wow, it’s Texians ten to one. That’s a statistic I believe is supportable with data, although it won’t ever be, because nobody but me gives a flying fig.

As someone who would have raised his hand, let me explain Juneteenth, because I was born with an Texian DNA knowledge of the day, likely because it began in Texas. On June 19, 1865, only 66 years before I was born, Union soldiers landed in Galveston, Texas and told the slaves the Civil War had ended, and that they were free. This happened two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. (More on the delay later.) Galveston is a mere (in Texas) fifty-miles south of my hometown of Houston by highway or through “The Houston Ship Channel,” a deepened natural watercourse created by the dredging of Buffalo Bayou and Galveston Bay.

Growing up in segregated Houston in the 1930s, legally apart in city schools, by various Texas laws, and separated by over 150 years years of unfortunate racist beliefs and practices common throughout Southern and Southwestern states. Even then, as racial differences were also seen as social and societal differences, blacks and whites knew each other but only through the unequal relationships of the times, with blacks as household maids, as childcare providers for white children, as tenders of the huge black pots with a lot of bluing going on to wash white folks white linens on Mondays, as black lawn tenders for white homes, and in other ways that benefited whites primarily at the expense of blacks — although the monetary recompense for blacks was much too low even back then, it helped them survive economically. No excuse for that, just another wrongheaded economic fact of those times; although it’s much easier for me to say, than it was for “Tannalee” to live on. Tannalee from our perspective was our unofficial second mother and caregiver for some years when our other mother worked as a legal secretary in a downtown Houston law office. Although we loved her dearly, I can’t speak for Tannalee’s views and feelings toward our family offspring. She was a free soul, and when thinking of us may have been saying to herself, “Unh unh, those unruly little white shits ain’t my kids no way no how. She was likely less judgmental than that, but if not I would have understood her reasoning was sound and her feelings justified.

Juneteenth is the oldest national commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States. Again, this began two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation — which had become official January 1, 1863. It had little impact on Texans because of the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. That changed upon the arrival of General Granger’s regiment as Union forces were then strong enough to overcome any resistance encountered.

The delay in Texas’s receipt of this news has differing historical versions, any one or none of which may be correct. (1) a messenger was murdered on his way to Texas with the news of freedom; (2) that the news was deliberately withheld by slave owners to maintain the labor force on plantations; (3) federal troops waited for white landowners to benefit from one last cotton harvest prior to enforcing the Emancipation Proclamation. For many Texans, President Lincoln’s authority also was in question, but whatever the reason, many black Texas lives remained in limbo well beyond legality, although that changed immediately upon their hearing Granger’s reading of General Order Number 3: “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 hired laborer.”

Black reactions ranged from shock to jubilation. Many former slaves remained to learn about their new employer to employee relationship, but others left before any employment offers were proffered by their former owners. This may have reflected varying conditions on particular plantations and balancing even the best of them against their new freedom. And with with no obvious post-slavery destinations, they understood leaving the plantation would be their first experience of freedom and a totally new set of life experiences for which they’d had no practical preparation — just their years of longing for a free life with all its attendant new issues. It’s now without practical meaning, but retroactively may God have blessed their new lives one and all.

The newly began Juneteenth festivities were a release from the differing pressures of their new status. June 19th was named “Juneteenth” and grew with more participation from slave descendants. It was a time of reassurance of freedom, for praying, and for gathering with family. Juneteenth continued to be highly revered in Texas for decades, with many former slaves and descendants making an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston on Juneteenth.

In its early years, outside the African American community little interest existed for participation in Juneteenth celebrations. In some cases, resistance to them was shown through barring the use of public property for the festivities. Most were held in rural areas around rivers and creeks that could provide for additional activities such as fishing, horseback riding, and barbecues. Often the church grounds were the site for such activities. Dots can be connected here.

In Houston, Rev. Jack Yates was an early fund-raiser for Juneteenth for the purchase of a celebration site at the cities Emancipation Park. George Floyd, the martyred Minneapolis man graduated some years later from Jack Yates High School, named for the minister, in his, and my, home town.

Good on ya’ Galveston, and Houston, and Texas! As a Houston expatriate, it hasn’t been often I could feel that pride. Since Lyndon Johnson led passage of the Civil Rights Act, republicans managed to persuade resistant Southern states to follow the racial dog whistles away from the previously solid Democratic South to become Southerners still fighting desegregation and bemoaning the loss of “Old Dixie” with all its racial baggage.

However, Texas Democratic politics is coming back strongly after years of Nixon, Reagan, Bush, and God help us the Orange Ape wearing the toupee, leavened by four years of Jimmy Carter and eight each with Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Since Nixon, the positive anomalies of Carter, Clinton, and Obama still left the South with a republican mindset that with Trump‘s disastrous years are helping change Texas politics back again — and one redeeming event in those disastrous republican times was Jeff Tiedrich’s founding of “The Smirking Chimp” in dishonor of George W. Bush, the inspiration for the blog that bears his likeness if not his name.

As a voluntarily exiled Texian, it’s an honor to share this blog a day before Juneteenth 2021. Especially knowing Biden has already signed the legislation into law, and because Juneteenth is on Saturday this year, Friday, June 18th will be the same day this “Smirking Chimp” blog appears. This day will also mark the first Federal employee observance of Juneteenth. Personally, both events make me feel good about my home state of Texas, at least until the republicans still in charge at our State Capitol commit their next horrific crime against the Texians who’ve stayed to fight the good fight against republicanism and its perverted minions. I’m also sure the beady-eyed bastards are anxious to share their next legislative affront on decency with the State, America, and the world as soon as it can be arranged. (As a matter of fact, the Texas Governor has begun a campaign to continue building “Trump‘s folly,” the border wall, through the State. As always, stupid is as stupid does.)


David L. Cattanach

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