THN recognizes the long-term and continued impacts of slavery. For example, in homeless services, we know that the African American population makes up more than 40% of those experiencing homelessness, but represents 13 percent of the general population. To increase the education of service providers, THN invited guest blogger Ebony Jackson to create a condensed history of Juneteenth and encourages our partners around the state to continue education on the history of being Black in America.
Juneteenth Celebration – The Texas Call to Freedom
By: Ebony Jackson
Juneteenth, short for June 19, is a deeply sensitive moment for enslaved people because for decades enslaved people prayed, hoped, and longed for freedom. Juneteenth is a commemoration holiday recognized on the day of June 19, 1865.
A group of African Americans in Galveston, Texas received the news that they indeed were free. 2000 Union troops showed up with the news, the Civil War was over and so was slavery in the south. General Granger’s arrival in Galveston validated that June 19, 1865, signaled freedom for Texas’s enslaved people. President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, as the United States approached its third year of violence and the continuation of a bloody civil war.
The proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”
Unfortunately, the Emancipation Proclamation freed the confederate state slaves two years after the proclamation. Slavery ending in Texas had not traveled to this community until 1865. It did not apply to the slave states that remained in the union. The 13th Amendment outlawed it across the land in December 1865, six months after Juneteenth.
The benefits of the Emancipation Proclamation allowed black men to join the Union Army. Every union victory brought an expansion of freedom. Slaves were able to travel across union lines due to the success of the military triumphs.
Famous Songs of Slavery
Steal Away – The message of the song Steal Away composed by Wallace Willis, is sung by the slave planning to run away in hopes to gain freedom. It was composed sometime before 1862. The lyrics say, “Steal away, steal away home, I ain’t got long to stay here.”
Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen – This work of art was created during slavery and published in 1867. This is one of the most eminent black gospel songs written by no known author in 1867. The message of this song is obvious due to the atrocities of slavery and all who suffered during this tragic time in history.
Juneteenth Celebration Today
Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration observing the ending of slavery in the United States. In 1979, Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday. It is more than a celebration. Juneteenth has flourished into a day of reflecting historical memories, family gatherings, unity, and a time of rejoicing.
Presently, African Americans educate, recognize, and honor their ancestors celebrating this day of liberation. Juneteenth is a time African Americans were blessed to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It was the dream of the abolitionist, the plentiful prayers of the people, and eventually the end of suffering. As the ancestors faced the rising sun of a new day that began on June 19, 1865, freedom was the reward; and all that it entailed.
Bell County Juneteenth
By 1860, Bell and McLennan counties, were considered good hiding places for slaves who were “running to Texas” during the war or being relocated due to the Union Army atrocities afflicted on freed slaves however, many suffered. They were sometimes homeless and could not find work to support themselves or their families. Displaced slaves died from disease and hunger after being liberated and positioned in encampments called “contraband camps” where conditions were unsanitary and food supplies limited. It is documented the treatment in the camps was brutal.
Those freed slaves who were lucky acquired the means to work for food, room, and board. An abundance of freed slaves stayed on their plantations because they had nowhere to go to call home or fear of the unknown. African American communities within Bell County were also known to take in those who were down and out. It was a spirit of extended family love and support to prevent and/or end homelessness. It was not uncommon for families to open their homes to destitute liberated African Americans.
Juneteenth was first celebrated in 1867 in Austin. In June of 1899, an article was published by J.D. Crow in the Temple Times newspaper which recognized Juneteenth as a day of celebrating freedom from enslavement.
Bell County like other counties has fully embraced Juneteenth. The communities come together to feast, prayer services, parades, pageants, partake in various family events, speakers share historical and present informative information along with shopping only at black-owned businesses. Juneteenth has solidified its presence in Bell County and residents are proud to observe Jubilee Day, Freedom Day, Emancipation Day, and Cel-liberation Day celebrated vastly among mixed groups of people representing various nationalities.
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