by the way…

…you’re free.  Have been for two and a half years, but who’s counting?

I mean, can you even imagine!?  Finding out you’d just slaved away for, well, nothing.  I suppose that’s an oxymoron or something.  It’s also what happened in Texas back in 1865.  Somehow it took 2.5  years for news of the end of the war and emancipation of the slaves to reach Texas.  Word finally arrived on June 19th, 1865.  We call it Juneteenth.  It’s a national holiday.  Nobody wished me a Happy Juneteenth though.  I don’t think it’s common knowledge.  And I do think it should be.

Be free!


Juneteenth celebration in Eastwoods Park, Austin, 1900 (Austin History Center)

Today in Texas History: Juneteenth

Hillary Sorin

On this date in 1865, Union General Gordon Granger (November 6, 1822 – January 10, 1876) read the Emancipation Proclamation in Galveston, thus officially ordering the freeing of 250,000 slaves in Texas. Since then, many African Americans celebrate Juneteenth as a distinct Independence Day, marking freedom from bondage.

Most Americans assume that President Abraham Lincoln’s issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, on January 1, 1863, abolished slavery. In truth, the majority of African Americans remained enslaved after that date. The Emancipation Proclamation applied only to Confederate States. The Proclamation did not free black slaves in Border States like Maryland, Kentucky, West Virginia and Delaware, where slavery was practiced. The Proclamation targeted the Confederacy, precisely where American law held no emotional or political authority.

Juneteenth marks the abolition of slavery in Texas. The news of freedom inspired celebrations by African Americans across the state, as well as reflections on and strategies regarding the future of the Texan black community as freed people. Historian Palomo Acosta writes, “The first broader celebrations of Juneteenth were used as political rallies to teach freed African Americans about their voting rights.”

The Freedmen’s Bureau organized the first official Texas Juneteenth celebration in Austin in 1867. Since 1872, Juneteenth has remained a part of the calendar of public events. Juneteenth often includes a host of events and activities which people of all ages can enjoy. The day is often marked by dance, theater and musical performances, as well as by sport activities and barbecues. “Lift Every Voice” remains a popular and traditional song performed at most Juneteenth celebrations held across the country.

Juneteenth declined in popularity in the 1960s as the Civil Rights movement was gaining momentum. Calls for integration lessened the importance of black only events as African Americans tried to end de jure and de facto segregation. The rise of the Black Power Movement in the 1970s renewed interest in Juneteenth as many African Americans advocated for recognition of the uniqueness of the African American experience while also advocating for integration and equality in the country’s political, economic and educational spheres.

In 1979, state Rep. Al Edwards, a Houston Democrat, introduced a bill into the Texas legislature calling for the recognition of Juneteenth as a public holiday in the state of Texas. A state-supported Juneteenth celebration took place a year later.

Juneteenth illustrates two challenges facing the black community in the post civil rights era — fighting racism and the ideology of race while, at the same time, communicating the fact that, although the concept of race has no scientific basis, the color of one’s skin in America continues to inform the American experience on both a personal and community level. Simply stated, race may not be real, but it is lived. Juneteenth reflects this dual reality for the African American community.

Today, Texas and 29 other states recognize Juneteenth as an official public holiday. Last year, Representative Sheila Lee Jackson spoke in support of a resolution commemorating the historical significance of Juneteenth, which marks the end of slavery in the United States.

Today, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison introduced legislation honoring Juneteenth Independence Day as a federal holiday. In a statement released by the senator, she stated, “By commemorating this day, the U.S. Senate will honor the role that Juneteenth has played in African-American culture in Texas and throughout the Southwest, and it will remind us that, in America, we are all blessed to live in freedom.”


Thank you, Lee, for turning me on to this little “gem.”  Horrifying sums it up well.  I don’t know what content I find most horrifying.  I’m picking up lots of “tragic mulatto” and “jezebel” (the cover page photo!) innuendo though those specific terms aren’t used.  In fact, the passers don’t have to be mulatto at all.  As I’m constantly told, as a nation and a people we’re all mixed and there are plenty of “black” people that are lighter than some mulattoes such as myself.   I do like this notion of “one honest goal: the elimination of the invisible color boundary which for so many years unfairly kept him from his rightful place in the sun.”  We’re still workin’ on it.


…it seems well-nigh incredible that some five million Negroes have turned their backs on their own race and are passing as white. For almost a quarter of a century, this fantastic lie has been lived by large groups of Negroes with no sign of abatement despite the strong gains that have been made by the champions of anti-segregation.

In the year 1960 alone more than 60,000 negroes are expected to “disappear”, cross the invisible color line into the world of whites. These are not just dreamed up figures. They are actual facts. Just as it is a fact that no one ever reports a Negro to the Missing Persons Bureau unless they are absolutely sure the missing human isn’t passing.

Many shocking incidents were brought to light some years back in a sensational book, ‘Black Metropolis’ by St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton. The authors claim that many “white negroes” as passers are called— hold strong positions in the white world as physicians, scientists, and public administrators—despite the fact that many such jobs are also held by Negroes unashamed of their race.

The late Walter White, himself a Negro, and one of the prime movers in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, once attempted to clarify the problem of passing. He said: “Negroes naturally resent the loss of some of the brilliant minds which would be an asset to them in their grim struggle for survival. But if any Negro believes he will be happier living as a white and thereby escape the barbs and handicaps of prejudices, or if he believes he can use his ability and training to greater advantage on the other side of the racial line, most Negroes wish him well.”

When it comes to passing, although most Negroes today refuse to condone it, they will not tell on one another. Most seem to understand the reasoning that prompts lighter-hued members of their race wanting to cross over.

“We know there are stronger anti-discrimination laws than ever before,” they will tell you, “but when a negro has a white skin, he seems to have a compulsion to live the way of the people who have so long opposed him. He doesn’t seem to realize that scientists have proven that the very people who condemn him might not be in a position to do so.”

A scientist like those mentioned above is Dr. Caroline Day, of Atlanta University, who wrote in her famous Harvard African Studies: “The grim joke of the whole matter is that for 150 years and more the Negro has been absorbed and his descendants are constantly rubbing elbows with some of the very ones who are discussing them.”

Even the fact that people, who believe all passers are eventually found out because their children are sure to be black, are merely deluding themselves, hasn’t deterred the practise of passing. Science took the inherited color theory apart a long time ago, with the aid of such eminent savants as Amram Schienfeld, Dr. Ernest A. Hooten and the late Dr. Edward M. East, who theorized thus; “If one of the parents is pure white, the baby cannot he darker than the darker parent. If they both have Negro blood, the baby may be slightly darker than its parents hut the chances are against it.”

With the legalization of racial intermarriage approved in some 22 states, nobody has been able to upset their theory – though, obviously, chances to do so have been many.

Yet the “passers” themselves seldom worry about theories. The “permanent passer”, going over the line, never comes back. He prefers to end his days living a big white lie; and women passers who marry bear children and keep their secret for life.

Only under unusual circumstances, such as the one that befell the wife of a prominent socialite, does a sensational exposure ever occur. This was the Leonard Kip Rhinelander case, which rated lurid headlines when the socialite playboy sought to have his marriage to Alice Jones set aside. Rhinelander claimed his wife was colored and failed to tell him so. In her defense, Alice stripped to the waist and bared her breasts to the jury, thus providing the sensation-seeking New York Graphic with a classic composite-photo of this closed door session for its front page.

Besides the “permanent passer”, the “segmental passer” stands without guilt or censure. The “segmental passers” lead a dual life; whites by day, Negroes by night. You’ll often find them in jobs where opposition to Negroes is strong but secret-Some are telephone operators, receptionist, typists, clerks in large corporations and in department stores, where, though some Negroes are employed the unspoken policy is “Enough is enough.”

On Broadway, particularly, the Negro girl has a tough time getting a chorus or showgirl job. There is a story current of a Negro showgirl, allegedly passing as white, who was recognized by a popular Negro singer, but he refused to reveal her secret. He also reportedly wouldn’t talk to the girl, not because of her “passing” but because of her more than passing interest in a white socialite-playboy who met her nightly.

“Obviously she hasn’t learned yet that mixed marriages are no longer looked on with horror,” a Negro artist told INSIDE STORY, “so she’ll go on living her lie and, in the long run, probably find her heart broken because she feels she can’t reveal her secret to the man should he want to marry her. Life will never be easy for her. She not only sometimes has to listen to blasts against her race, but worry every moment about being exposed.”

While there’s no way of truly gauging the number of passers operating, some estimate is arrived at by studies of census reports, immigration records, vital statistics and information from other sources. Yet this does not take into account the ‘’segmental passer” or the passer who, in the past, was known as an “occasional” a reference to light-hued Negroes who occasionally went downtown to segregated areas and, as a lark, spent their money on white entertainment.

Actually, when it comes to “passing”, the shocked might as well face these facts: Passers not only go through life as white, they have children who look (and are) white. Any anthropologist will tell you that if a person has one-sixteenth or less of Negro blood—it is impossible to determine his or her ancestry.

Yet, the practice of passing still continues, much to the chagrin, not necessarily the shame, of the Negro who believes in living as he was born. To such a Negro, there can be only one honest goal: the elimination of the invisible color boundary which for so many years unfairly kept him from his rightful place in the sun. The passer, working in the movies, working as a white actress or a showgirl, or a model or a clerk, or a receptionist doesn’t think of this. He’s thinking of himself. Or herself. And that, to a good many Negroes, is a “shameful secret!

the black codes

Northern States had them, too.  I think these things are worth examining.  If we want to know more about why and how things got so out of hand in this country (I mean beyond slavery itself), we retrace our steps back to decrees such as these.

One measure of equality suggested by the British sociologist T.H. Marshall is “citizenship” – the “basic human equality associated with  . . . full membership of a community.”  African American history, from bondage through the civil rights movement, is often seen through the political lens as a struggle for citizenship and full membership in American society.

Legislated repression in post-slavery South

…[I]t shall not be lawful for any freedman, free Negro, or mulatto to
intermarry with any white person; nor for any white person to intermarry
with any freedman, free Negro, or mulatto; and any person who shall so
intermarry shall be deemed guilty of felony and, on conviction thereof,
shall be confined in the state penitentiary for life … — from
Mississippi Black Codes, enacted Nov. 22, 1865

As formerly enslaved Blacks would soon learn, freedom was not as they had
anticipated. White southerners were anxious to regain power over them and
used the law in order to achieve that objective. In 1865, southerners
created Black Codes, which served as a way to control and inhibit the
freedom of ex-slaves. Codes controlled almost all aspects of life and
prohibited Blacks from the freedoms that had been won.

Not only did whites want to control ex-slaves, but also they needed
laborers. While things could no longer be exactly the same as in slavery,
they found a way to guarantee that Blacks would serve as their laborers. To
do this, they created Black Codes. While Codes were unique to the
post-Civil War south, they encompassed some of the antebellum restrictions
on free blacks, northern apprenticeship laws, and the Freedmen’s Bureau and
the War Department regulations. Codes regulated civil and legal rights,
from marriage to the right to hold and sell property to the predestined
definition of Blacks as agricultural laborers.

Laws were different in each state but most embodied the same kinds of
restrictions. Commonly, codes compelled freedmen to work. In many states,
if unemployed, Blacks faced the potential of being arrested and charged
with vagrancy. Many of those that did work had their day regulated. Codes
dictated their hours of labor, duties, and the behavior assigned to them as
agricultural workers.

Black Codes left Blacks with little freedom. The choice of the type of work
was often regulated. Many white southerners believed Blacks were
predestined to work in agriculture. In addition, the advantage of
regulating occupations provided them with laborers. In South Carolina, for
example, a special license and certificate from a local judge, attesting to
a freedman’s skill, had to be obtained before a formerly enslaved person
could earn a living in agriculture or indomestic service.

Self-sufficiency was also discouraged. Codes prevented Blacks from raising
their own crops. In Mississippi, for instance, they were restricted from
renting or leasing any land outside of cities or towns and Black ownership
was left up to local authorities.

Almost every aspect of life was regulated, including the freedom to roam.
Often Blacks were prohibited from entering towns without permission. In
Opelousas, Louisiana Blacks needed permission from their employer to enter
the town. A note was required stating the nature and length of the visit.
Any Black found without a note after ten o’clock at night was subject to
imprisonment. Residency within towns and cities was also discouraged. Local
ordinances in Louisiana made it almost impossible for Blacks to live within
the towns or cities. Residency was only possible if a white employer agreed
to take responsibility for his employee’s conduct.

“This Week In Black History: Legislated repression in post-slavery South.” Michigan Citizen. 2001.

Black Codes in Georgia: 1865–1900

W. E. B. DuBois and his students included a comprehensive hand-written list of the Georgia Black Codes (laws affecting blacks 1865–1900) as part of The Georgia Negro exhibit in order to demonstrate how the law had specifically been used as a tool to discriminate against black people. Three hundred pages of legal material were tediously copied out by hand. DuBois had included a similar compilation of laws affecting the slave trade in his classic 1896 work, The Suppression of the African Slave Trade.

Black codes

Sample pages from DuBois’s list of Black Codes


civil rights instruction

I’m thrilled to learn that Mississippi is mandating civil rights instruction for al K-12 students.  They’re the first and only state to do so!  Maybe this will lead to the eradication of segregated proms there.  And maybe even to honest, well- rounded history books/classes throughout the country.  Be the change, Mississippi!


JACKSON, Miss. — In Mississippi, where mention of the Civil Rights Movement evokes images of bombings, beatings and the Ku Klux Klan, public schools are preparing to test a program that will ultimately teach students about the subject in every grade from kindergarten through high school.

Many experts believe the effort will make Mississippi the first state to mandate civil rights instruction for all K-12 students.

So far, four school systems have asked to be part of a pilot effort to test the curriculum in high schools. In September, the Mississippi Department of Education will name the systems that have been approved for the pilot. By the 2010-2011 school year, the program should be in place at all grade levels as part of social studies courses.

Advocacy groups such as the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation and Washington-based Teaching for Change are preparing to train Mississippi teachers to tell the “untold story” of the civil rights struggle to the nearly half million students in the state’s public schools.

“Now more than ever we are engaged in national debates about race and so much of those debates are impoverished in their understanding of history,” said Susan Glissen of the Winter Institute. “We want to emphasize the grassroots nature of civil rights and the institution of racism.”


…Education officials looked to other states for a model but couldn’t find one that included anything as comprehensive as what Mississippi has in mind, said Chauncey Spears, who works in the curriculum and instruction office of Mississippi’s education agency.

The Education Commission of the States didn’t know of any other state with a such a program, although it does not specifically track social studies curriculum.

Some states, including Alabama, Georgia and Arkansas, have placed an emphasis on civil rights instruction. New Jersey created an Amistad Commission to ensure the history of slavery is taught in schools. Pennsylvania’s Philadelphia school district requires students to complete an African-American history course before graduation.

“We’re behind time. Students don’t know about what Blacks did. They’re not taught anything about culture, about our history,” said Ollye Shirley, a member of the commission created to research the Mississippi curriculum and a former Jackson Public School board member.


…Deborah Menkart, executive director of Teaching for Change, said it’s important to help students understand that Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. weren’t the only important figures in the Civil Rights Movement.

“The traditional version would be that it started in 1954, thereby leaving out the fact that a lot of groundwork had to be done before that,” Menkart said.