Category Archives: Juneteenth

Emancipation Day

There was a movement a few years back to make Juneteenth a national holiday, but it hasn’t happened yet. It is a public holiday in Texas, where this holiday has its origins: the day was first celebrated there in 1865. The Civil War was over; Robert E. Lee had surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomatox Courthouse in Virginia on April 9, 1865. But things were not resolved throughout the land that day. It took a long while for Union forces to bring all the states that had seceded back into the fold. In Texas, this process began more than two months later, on the 18th of June. Union troops arrived on Galveston Island and the next day, June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger read a proclamation from a Galveston balcony:

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.

This is what Juneteenth is all about. It became a celebration of hard-earned freedoms, and a celebration of African-American culture. A day for family and friends to gather. The road has not been an easy one, and so it is as well a day to reassure each other against adversity and challenge. The fact that the road is still being forged is all too evident these days, as we continue to work through our troubled history and find paths forward, paths toward complete equality.

One thing I love about Juneteenth is that I get to remember each year that the word is a portmanteau of the words June and nineteenth. The English major in me gets really excited about a holiday in which I get to use the word portmanteau. It’s such an exquisite word, no? The day is also known, perhaps more properly, as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day. The earliest Juneteenth celebrations brought folks out in their finest clothes for parades and barbecue and music, like the Emancipation Day Celebration Band in the photograph above, from a Juneteenth celebration in Texas in 1900. But when you get right down to it, Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom, pure and simple. Each year on Juneteenth I am reminded not just of the word portmanteau, but most especially that we should never become complacent about our liberties and our freedoms. We realize there are times in our history when this importance has particular resonance. Join me in celebrating today.

 

Image: “Emancipation Day Celebration Band, June 19, 1900, Texas USAby Mrs. Charles Stephenson (Grace Murray). Photograph, 1900 [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.

 

The Sensual World, or Your June Book of Days

Once again from the Better Late Than Never Department, here is our monthly gift to you: Your printable Convivio Book of Days calendar, this one for June. It was a hectic close to May and it’s been a hectic start to June, and since there’s not much happening at the start of the month, I figured all right then, we would ease into this month’s calendar. In fact, the first red letter day of the month isn’t until the 13th, when we celebrate the Feast of St. Anthony of Padua.

Now my grandmother, Assunta, she would have been celebrating St. Anthony in her way from the start of the month. St. Anthony was her guy, and Grandma would offer thirteen days of novenas in his honor beginning on the First of June. She would sit there in her upright beach chair in front of the statue of St. Anthony, the one that Dad painted by hand, and mumble her prayers, prayers she would read from books sent to her by the children at the orphanage in Padua named for St. Anthony, the one she supported for years with gifts. They were good friends, in a way, my grandma and St. Anthony, but this is how we Italians are, talking to the saints that guide us, as if they are right there in the room with us.

My mom remembers as a girl coming in from outside on warm June days just like this and wandering through the house, wondering, “Where’s my mother?” and there she would be, with Mamam, the neighbor, the one who delivered my mom soon after the doctor had left the house because he didn’t think the baby would be coming any time soon. She was like a second mother to my mom, Mamam was, and she and Grandma would be in the house, these June days, reading and reciting before the statue of St. Anthony, saying their novena. Grandma would read the prayers out loud in Italian, and Mamam, who didn’t know how to read, would say the response. She’d catch a glimpse of my mom, little girl that she was at the time, and wave her in. “Come on, Millie, come pray with us.” Just what a little girl wants to do on a warm June day. But she was seen, and now she was stuck there. It was too late to turn away. And so my Mom would sit there, too, with Grandma and Mamam, saying “Pray for us” in Italian after each petition to St. Anthony. There was no turning away from the old friend.

This would go on each day through to St. Anthony’s Day on the 13th. I imagine not many people do this anymore. For me, a little boy watching my Grandma sit and pray on her beach chair by the statue in the yard, it was always a Grandma thing, something that all the grandmothers I knew did. Then again, all the grandmothers I knew as a child were Italian. I remember the first time I met the grandmother of another boy I knew, a grandmother who was tall and who spoke proper English. I was a little taken aback. It was just plain weird. Like the time in 1970 when my grandparents went back to Italy and came home again with photographs in color. Color? Italy, to me at 6-years old, was sepia-toned.

But I digress. Back to the calendar. June is the month of Old Midsummer, of William Shakespeare and his Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is, as well, the month of Bloomsday and Juneteenth, all days that have some literary connection. It was Ralph Ellison who titled a novel Juneteenth, a name taken from the obscure June holiday that commemorates the formal and official end of slavery in Texas, and Bloomsday is of course based on the work of James Joyce, who wrote about the day’s adventures through Dublin of a character named Leopold Bloom in his novel Ulysses, and now, each 16th of June, people all over the world call down his memory. If there is a cover star of sorts on this month’s calendar, it would be Kate Bush, who recorded a song in 1989 titled “The Sensual World,” a song that is steeped, too, in James Joyce’s Ulysses and in Bloomsday, based as it is on the closing passage of the book, a soliloquy by Molly Bloom, Leopold’s wife.

So many words on our lips––prayers and plays, novels and soliloquies–– in a month of beauty. With June we welcome summer by the almanac. We embrace the gentle time of year, the sensual world. Go, enjoy it.

 

Juneteenth

Juneteenth

Juneteenth is not ’til Sunday, but I’m writing this and sending it out to the world a couple of days early, for here where we live, our Juneteenth celebration is happening a bit early, as well: It’s tomorrow, Saturday June 18, at Spady Cultural Heritage Museum in Delray Beach. The name Juneteenth, which is such a wonderful word, is a portmanteau (itself a wonderful word) of the words June and nineteenth. The day is also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, and it goes back 151 years to 1865: The Emancipation Proclamation may have been issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, and the Civil War may have ended with the surrender of Robert E. Lee to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomatox Courthouse in Virginia on April 9, 1865… but enforcement of that emancipation took some time. Juneteenth is a celebration born in Galveston, Texas, when Union General Gordon Granger arrived on Galveston Island on June 18, 1865 with 2,000 Union troops. Granger arrived with the formal announcement of the end of slavery, which he read the following day, June 19, from a Galveston balcony:

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.

Newly emancipated slaves rejoiced right there in the streets of Galveston. It took a few years before that proclamation made its way across the vast State of Texas, and, as you can imagine, the news was not always welcome: newly freed slaves were often the targets of violence. Still, by the year that followed that original proclamation in Galveston, Juneteenth celebrations were sprouting up all over Texas and continued spreading, mostly among African American communities, throughout the country. As the years went on, and with the new challenges of Jim Crow and segregation, Juneteenth became a day to gather family, to reassure each other against adversity and challenge. In fact, Emancipation Park in Houston is a fine example of Juneteenth spirit challenging Jim Crow laws: When whites kept blacks from using public spaces, those who wanted to celebrate Juneteenth properly gathered the money necessary to purchase a site of their own, and Emancipation Park is one such site. It is the first public park in the State of Texas. The Juneteenth celebration has been going on there for a week now!

Folks early on wore their finest clothes for Juneteenth parades and gathered to eat good food, barbecue especially. Nowadays the dress is less formal but the celebration endures, showcasing the importance of the contributions of black Americans and African American culture. But even now––or maybe especially now––even after 151 years, Juneteenth is a day to celebrate hard-earned freedoms. We should never become complacent about these things. This year’s Juneteenth celebration at Emancipation Park has been going on for about the same length of time that our nation has had to mourn the tragedy that took place in Orlando. By now, the response to that tragedy has devolved into our usual bickering. We never see things eye to eye here, and this is what makes America what it is. However, it does get disheartening to see such division where one would hope to find common sense, and it is disturbing to see some so willing to trample on the rights of others based on who they are. I’ll leave it at that; I am tired of the bickering and the division, and I don’t wish to be part of it. I’m just here to remind you that portmanteau is a lovely word, that Juneteenth should not be forgotten, and that the freedoms we all enjoy as citizens of this country have been, for some of us, attained only through great toil and hardship.

 

Image: A photograph of an early Juneteenth celebration in Austin, Texas.