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.”

yellow rose of texas

I’ve heard of this song (the first published edition of which was copyrighted by Firth, Pond and Company of New York on September 2, 1858.), but never actually heard the song itself.  I don’t get the feeling that this is the proudest moment in “mulatto history”, but if these are indeed the facts, it was a moment so…


Group will shed light on minorities’ role in the settling of the West


Our ancestors kept secrets.

The secrets they kept, and the secrets their parents kept from them, left holes in our histories.

Minorities helped create Texas and the nation and helped tame the West, but they barely get a mention in most history books.

On Tuesday, a group of people who can shed light on that era will gather at the Palace Arts Theater in Grapevine. Author Liz Lawless, along with amateur historians and living-history storytellers Wendell Prince and Rosieleetta Lee Reed, will attempt to fill some of those historical gaps while dressed in period costumes.

Reed specializes in stories about frontier women, like stagecoach driver Mary Fields… But if you take Reed aside and ask, she may tell you a story about Emily D. West, perhaps a hero of the Battle of San Jacinto, who was made famous by a song that historians say had nothing to do with her:  The Yellow Rose of Texas.

Historians are almost certain that West was a free woman of mixed race who migrated from Connecticut to Texas. Documents place her in Galveston in the employ of Col. James Morgan in 1835, and later at the Battle of San Jacinto.

Beyond that, little is known for sure. Santa Anna’s account is that he was asleep when the Texian army attacked and could not rouse himself to stem the ensuing chaos and his army’s ultimate defeat, said Jeff Dunn, amateur historian and an expert on West. Some say they believe that Santa Anna was involved in a dalliance with West at the time of the attack and that she detained him long enough to ensure a Texas victory.

“Some argued that she was his concubine, and some argued that she was a white woman,” Reed said. “She was black. She was contraband.”

Mexican troops burned Morgan’s property in Galveston and captured West and several of Morgan’s servants days before the epic battle.

“The only reason we know this story exists is because William Bollaert wrote about it to a friend, and then tried to tell him to keep it quiet,” Dunn said. “Off to the left-hand margin he writes ‘private’ and he underlines it three times.”

Bollaert wrote the following, stating that this came from a letter written by Houston to a friend, Dunn said.

“The battle of San Jacinto was probably lost to the Mexicans, owing to the influence of a Mulatto girl [Emily] belonging to Col. Morgan who was closeted in the tent with g’l Santana, at the time the cry was made the Enemy! They come! They come! & detained Santana so long, that order could not be restored readily again.”

It was not until the 1950s, when Henderson Shuffler, another amateur historian and later a publicist for Texas A&M University, linked The Yellow Rose of Texas and West forever, according to the Handbook of Texas Online. However, historians believe that the song was written by an African-American man longing for his light-skinned sweetheart and was linked to West erroneously.

Frontier Texas was a very fluid place racially speaking, said Sam Haynes, University of Texas-Arlington history professor and the director of its Center for Southwestern Studies. Marriages between different racial groups are evident in the state’s early history, Haynes said.


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