Juneteenth

Today is Juneteeth, the holiday commemorating the announcement of the end of slavery in Texas. Because it was relatively  isolated from the rest of the Confederacy and had not been a battleground, and because word traveled slowly, news of war and politics known in other Confederate states was slow to reach Texas. News of Lee’s surrender in April 1865 didn’t reach there until May.

On June 18, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger arrived with troops in Galveston to occupy the state. On June 19, Granger read “General Order No. 3,” which announced the emancipation:

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 personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

Juneteenth celebration in Austin, Texas, on June 19, 1900. By Mrs. Charles Stephenson (Grace Murray) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The order came nearly three years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Former slaves celebrated in the streets, and the next year the first formal Juneteenth celebration was organized.

As is well known, things didn’t go as they should have after that. Black people weren’t allowed to use public parks for celebrations. Some pooled money and bought land for parks where they could celebrate (such as Houston‘s Emancipation ParkMexia’s Booker T. Washington Park, and Emancipation Park in Austin.) (Austin’s Emancipation Park has had a difficult history: Read “Staring Down Development, Neighbors Seek Historical Recognition for Emancipation Park, by Syeda Hasan, KUT Austin (NPR), January 19, 2017.)

The Texas Supreme Court finally recognized emancipation in a series of decisions between 1868 and 1874.  But Texas and other former Confederate States wrote Constitutions disenfranchising black people and, during the 1920s and ’30s, passed Jim Crow laws that lasted until the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s.

Over the years, Juneteenth celebrations spread to other states. The day was made a holiday in Texas in 1980. Now forty-five states observe it as a state or a ceremonial holiday. In 1997, Congress recognized the day through Senate Joint Resolution 11 and House Joint Resolution 56.

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Some of this post was drawn from memory; Wikipedia helped me with the rest. Find much more information at Juneteenth.com.

“Use the right word . . . “: Mark Twain’s Mother

Mark Twain cared about words: Pa’s boot with a couple of his toes leaking out of the front end; the sow lying in the middle of the street looking as happy as if she was on salary; and Miss Watson, a tolerable slim old maid, with goggles on.

The difference between the almost right word and the right word,” he wrote, “is really a large matter – ’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.

And, “Use the right word, not its second cousin.”

In his autobiography, he tells the story of a time his mother used the right words to teach him a lesson that lasted a lifetime.

Troy Cawley - www.flickr.comphotosthecawleys - 3827566489
Mark Twain Museum. By Troy Cawley via flickr. CC BY-NC-SA-2.0

There was, however, one small incident of my boyhood days which touched this matter, and it must have meant a good deal to me or it would not have stayed in my memory, clear and sharp, vivid and shadowless, all these slow-drifting years. We had a little slave boy whom we had hired from some one, there in Hannibal. He was from the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and had been brought away from his family and his friends, half way across the American continent, and sold. He was a cheery spirit, innocent and gentle, and the noisiest creature that ever was, perhaps. All day long he was singing, whistling, yelling, whooping, laughing – it was maddening, devastating, unendurable. At last, one day, I lost all my temper, and went raging to my mother, and said Sandy had been singing for an hour without a single break, and I couldn’t stand it, and wouldn’t she please shut him up. The tears came into her eyes, and her lip trembled, and she said something like this—

“Poor thing, when he sings, it shows that he is not remembering, and that comforts me; but when he is still, I am afraid he is thinking, and I cannot bear it. He will never see his mother again; if he can sing, I must not hinder it, but be thankful for it. If you were older, you would understand me; then that friendless child’s noise would make you glad.”

It was a simple speech, and made up of small words, but it went home, and Sandy’s noise was not a trouble to me any more. She never used large words, but she had a natural gift for making small ones do effective work. She lived to reach the neighborhood of ninety years, and was capable with her tongue to the last – especially when a meanness or an injustice roused her spirit.

From “Mark Twain on Slavery, How Religion Is Used to Justify Injustice, and What His Mother Taught Him About Compassion”