Juneteenth Freedom Day celebrated in Triad
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
So declared Major General Gordon Granger on June 19, 1865, the day after his troops returned Texas to the Union.
Lincoln’s General Order No. 3 only applied to the Lone Star State. Founded by gringo plantation owners rebelling against Mexico’s ban on slavery, Texas had played only a small role in the Civil War, mainly by supplying horses and troops to the rest of the Confederacy.
While the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation declared all enslaved Africans held in the Confederate States of America to be free, it had been only symbolic and did not apply to the parts of the CSA already under Union control. But with the war over, the announcement in Galveston was immediately enforced.
One hundred and sixty-five days after Lincoln’s order freed 183,000 black Texans, the 13th Amendment officially abolished slavery and forced servitude in the United States (“except as a punishment for a crime”).
But freedom remained elusive, argued W. E. B. Du Bois in his landmark 1935 history Black Reconstruction, citing the 4 million “freed” slaves who remained on plantations, doing the same work, “getting about the same wages” and “subject to slave codes modified only in name.”
The 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, was meant to protect black voting rights, but the South (and Oklahoma) soon enacted legislation to neuter it. By 1908, every former Confederate state had successfully disenfranchised its black citizens.
But it’s the nature of human hope to celebrate even transient victories, and African-Americans enthusiastically did so.
According to the Texas State Historical Association, the first Juneteenth was on June 19, 1866. In some parts of the state, the occasion was used to teach former slaves about the new voting rights many would effectively lose decades later. Also known as Negro Independence Day and Freedom Day, it was celebrated with cookouts, ceremonies, prayer meetings, speeches and musical performances. And as black families emigrated to neighboring states (sometimes fleeing murderous Confederate veterans), so did their new holiday.
When Reconstruction gave way to Jim Crow, that holiday declined in popularity, especially after 1915, when black celebrations could attract violence from the revived KKK. But it never died out.
In the Great Migration of 1917-70, more than 5 million black people left the South, taking Juneteenth with them. After the Rev. Ralph Abernathy’s Poor People’s Campaign of 1968, many attendees returned home and began Juneteenth celebrations in places that had not previously known them.
In 1980, Texas became the first state to recognize Juneteenth. Others were initially slow to follow, with only four more doing so by the end of the century. But by 2019, 47 more states and the District of Columbia had declared June 19 either a holiday or a day of observance. Only Hawaii, North Dakota and South Dakota have not yet done so.
On June 19 2018, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper proclaimed that date as “Juneteenth Day in North Carolina,” urging organizations and individuals to annually “celebrate African American heritage, history, freedom, and culture with events and ceremonies that reflect the power of community, family, art, and tradition in the face of oppression,” and to “observe Juneteenth as an opportunity to reflect, rejoice, and plan for a brighter future as we continue to address racial injustices in our society today.”
This year, a variety of celebrations and events are scheduled for the Triad. The following are by no means all, merely a sample.
On Saturday, June 15, the Juneteenth SOULebration will take place from 1 to 8 p.m. at Hartley Drive YMCA in High Point. This a free family event that will include performances, local vendors, bounce houses, games, talks, and food trucks.
On Wednesday, June 19, the Historic Magnolia House at 442 Gorrell St. in Greensboro (one subject of last month’s article about Green Book sites in the Triad) is offering a Panhellenic Supper and Table Talk.
Also on Wednesday, June 19 in Greensboro, the First Annual Juneteenth Festival will be celebrated 6 to 10 p.m. at Persimmon Grove AME Church at 408 Dolley Madison Rd. The free festival will include free food, music and speeches from the Rev. C. Bradley Hunt of the Greensboro NAACP and other public figures and officials. Performers include rapper Enoch, a jazz quartet, and the Greensboro Cluster Choir.
On Saturday, June 22, the Juneteenth Freedom & Unity Celebration will take place 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. in Nocho Park at 1010 Duke St. in Greensboro.
Also on June 22, Triad Cultural Arts is sponsoring the 15th Annual Juneteenth Festival of the Triad from 1 to 8 p.m. at Wake Forest Innovation Quarter in Winston-Salem. Performers include Otesha Creative Arts, Keith Byrd, Phase Band, Tony Dove & Headlynerz Band, and Big Ron Hunter. Winston-born actor, voice artist, and professional rugby player Geno Segers (who played Mufasa in the Australian stage production of Disney’s “The Lion King”) and Chayton Littlestone on Cinemax’s Banshee, will conduct a special motivational youth session at 2 p.m.
To find more events near you, Google “Juneteenth events 2019” and the name of your town or community.