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June 19: We’re nonetheless on the way in which to freedom and justice


When we name the names of those who have been killed by police bullets, lynching by guards and racist fanatics, we also want to honor the ancestors who survived to give us life and the strength in the face of almost insurmountable circumstances carry on obstacles. We who live today, who dance, who sing, who cook special dishes, who love, who embrace joy and need deserve praise. We will not be stopped. We are not silenced. The voices of our dead join a powerful choir that demands both justice and equality.

I have often written about my own connections to enslavement. For me it is not simply a historical time from a history book. The people in my extended family tree are just as real to me as the living people I deal with in my daily life. I realize that I am blessed to have these connections. Too many of my brothers and sisters have been separated from this recent history of enslavement, their family histories lost, left out of history books and school curricula. Far too many of my non-black friends and co-workers see no connection with enslavement in their own lives, especially if they grew up in pure white enclaves or if their ancestors came here after 1865.

How often do I hear the complaint: "My family never had slaves." That is probably quite true. It does not mean that you and your family do not benefit from the blood, sweat and tears of those who have built this nation on their backs or from theft of the soil on which we live from the indigenous people living here. I want to share some of my own stories here today and encourage readers to explore their own.

Amelia "Millie" Roberts

When Governor Northam of Virginia announced that the state of Juneteenth would be an official holiday, I sat down and called the names of over 100 members of my family who were enslaved in Virginia. My great-grandmother Millie Weaver Roberts (short for Amelia), the matriarch of our clan, was a midwife, in slavery and freedom, as was her mother before her. She was famous for healthy deliveries and healthy mothers who never died of child bed fever.

She gave birth to all of her own children and did not allow anyone to help, for fear that they would not practice proper sanitation. She cooked everything; Sheets and towels and sterilized their birth instruments in the oven at a time when many doctors had never washed their hands before touching a patient. Her customers were both black and white. She passed her knowledge of herbs and healing on to her sons and daughters, and one of her sons became a doctor, another dentist.

I also gave the names of those whites who "owned" them, abused them, oversaw them, raped them, bred them, and the few who liberated them. If I were a Christian, I would hope that most of this crew writhes in hell. Since I am not, it will be enough to make you smile.

In "The Road to Juneteenth" I wrote about my first trip to the Lincoln Memorial:

I can never really celebrate July 4th enthusiastically because too many of my ancestors were in bondage in 1776 and the following decades. The slave-owning and selling presidents who preceded Lincoln, like George Washington, are not fathers of my Country. I can still remember my first trip to Washington DC as a little girl with my parents. We went to relatives in Anacostia (Southeast DC) and went from there to visit the historic sites of the city. The first stop on our tour was not the Capitol or the White House – it was the Lincoln Memorial, where we looked at the statue of Abraham Lincoln. My parents said that President Lincoln "freed the slaves" and named members of our family who had been released through his declaration of emancipation. When you are six or seven years old you don't have much understanding of the story, but the man's sad, gruff face moved me and I felt a personal connection between him and the family names that I knew like "great-grandfather Roberts" , "Great-grandmother Millie" and "great-aunt Annie", who had been an outlier. We later made a side trip to Loudoun County, Virginia to visit Cousin Mandy and Cousin Bea Scipio, where these two older women, who lived in a log cabin, told stories about slavery handed down by their parents. In the following years of my childhood we learned something about the declaration of emancipation and the civil war at school, but only later in my life, in young adulthood, did I learn more about the nuances of Lincoln's story – its ambivalence towards blacks and colonization plans to back to Africa "or Chiriqui (Panama). I also learned that the enslavement declaration did not automatically free all enslaved people. I didn't know as a kid that the emancipation statement only covered freed enslaved people in areas over which Lincoln had no control, and …

The nearly 500,000 slaves in the slave-holding border states (Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland or Delaware) that were Union states were not recorded. Also explicitly excluded were New Orleans and 13 named parishes in Louisiana, all of which were largely under federal control at the time of the proclamation. These exceptions released another 300,000 slaves.

The Library of Congress shows this print by the artist Thomas Nast, distributed in 1865, which shows a rosy view of emancipation and freedom.

Thomas Nast's celebration of the emancipation of southern slaves with the end of the civil war. Nast sees a somewhat optimistic picture of the future of free blacks in the United States. The central scene shows the interior of a freed man's house with the family that has gathered around one house

Thomas Nast's celebration of the emancipation of southern slaves with the end of the civil war. Nast sees a somewhat optimistic picture of the future of free blacks in the United States. The central scene shows the inside of a freed man with the family who has gathered around a "Union" wood-burning stove. The father bounces on his knee with his little child while his wife and others watch. A picture of Abraham Lincoln and a banjo hang on the wall next to the mantelpiece. Below this scene is an oval portrait of Lincoln and above it Thomas Crawford's statue of "Freedom". On both sides of the central picture are scenes that contrast the black life in the south under the Confederacy (left) with visions of the life of the freed man after the war (right). At the top left, fleeing slaves are hunted in a coastal swamp. Below, a black man, apart from his wife and children, is sold on a public auction block. Below, a black woman is flogged and a male slave is branded. Above, two rabbits, one of whom holds the three-headed hell dog Cerberus, preside over these scenes and flee from the brilliant appearance of freedom. In contrast, a woman on the right triumphs with an olive branch and a scales of justice. Here you can see a released house in a peaceful landscape. Below, a black mother sends her children to the "public school". Basically, a free negro gets his salary from a cashier. Two smaller scenes flank Lincoln's portrait. In one, a mounted overseer whips a black field slave (left); in the other, a foreman politely greets negro cotton field workers.

Yes, there were celebrations like the one shown below in Washington D.C.

Celebration of the Abolition of Slavery in the District of Columbia by the Colored in Washington, April 19, 1866 / sketched by F. Dielman. Image in: Harper"Celebration of the Abolition of Slavery in the District of Columbia by the Colored in Washington, April 19, 1866."

It was only when I delved deeply into my own family's enslavement history that I discovered the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act, which freed some of my relatives from Scipio, Weaver, and Jackson. The irony associated with this early emancipation was that slave owners who swore allegiance to the Union were granted "compensation" – in other words, reparation. There was no repayment for those men and women who were kept in a life of bondage; The ones who benefited from it were the whites who had lost their "property".

On April 16, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill to end slavery in the District of Columbia. This law was passed 8 1/2 months before President Lincoln issued his declaration of emancipation. The law brought to an end decades of agitation aimed at ending what anti-slavery advocates described as the "national shame" of slavery in the nation's capital. It provided for immediate emancipation, compensation for former owners loyal to the Union of up to $ 300 for each slave freed, voluntary settlement of former slaves in locations outside the United States, and payments of up to $ 100 for each person who decided to emigrate. Over the next 9 months, the Commissioners Commission for the Administration of the Law approved 930 petitions, in whole or in part, from former owners for the freedom of 2,989 former slaves.

Fortunately, the freedman's records are now being digitized on the Washington Civil War website, giving an insight into the look of these "slaves" – who were -. Here's what I found: I wrote the names of my family members in bold, including my great-great-uncle Dennis Weaver, one of the two enslaved ancestors for whom I was named Denise, and the Scipio (Sipio) ancestor of my cousins ​​Mandy and Bea.

Petition by Hugh W. Throckmorton, May 5, 1862:

Your petitioner, Hugh W. Throckmorton of Washington City, DC, explains in his written petition that he is a person who is loyal to the United States and is entitled to service or work against the United States at the time the aforementioned Congress Law was passed following people of African origin with the names of Lewis Sipio, Solomon Ford, Henry Weaver, Patsy Jackson, John Jackson, Dennis Weaver, Winney Ford and Joseph Ford for and during the life of these people and that this act of Congress freed them and freed them from all claims by their petitioner of such service or work; At the time of the discharge, Lewis Sipio said he was thirty years old and had the following personal description: (1) Light colored, Solomon Ford twenty-nine years dark, Henry Weaver twenty-six years old, dark Patsy Jackson, twenty-two years old, dark John Jackson, eight months old. Bright Dennis Weaver at the age of eighteen. Dark Colored Winney Ford at the age of 16, Dark Colored and Joseph Ford at the age of 15. Dark colored everything very healthy and no defect except Henry Weaver, who has a broken leg; and currently writing on crutches but improving that your petitioner has acquired his right to the above-mentioned ministry or negro work in the following ways: (2) partly through inheritance and partly through purchase. formerly his father Mordicai Throckmorton. Who died in Loudoun Co. State of Virginia. He left the negroes in question as mentioned above and paid the debts owed by his father, some of which he received through inheritance and some through purchase as mentioned above

One of the things that always bothered me about the history of enslavement in the United States is that we too often use the term "slave" to make the enslaved people faceless and dehumanizing. I am grateful to have some pictures and family stories to add details to this time. For those of you who don't have these details, there are portrait photos of liberated people in the Library of Congress, many from the US Works Progress Administration (WPA), the Federal Writers & # 39; Project that places and people faces and stories gives. like this one from Texas:

Bob Lemmons, Carrizo Springs, Texas. Born around 1850 as a slave south of San Antonio. Came to Carrizo Springs during the Civil War with white ranchers looking for new range. In 1865 his master was one of the first settlers. I knew Billy the Kid, King Fisher and other well-known bad guys from the border. Photo by Dorothea Lange, 1936.Bob Lemmons, Carrizo Springs, Texas. Born enslaved around 1850, south of San Antonio.

Finally we come to this last day of emancipation in Texas:

Born in 1865, Union Soldiers, led by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, landed in Galveston, Texas on June 19 with the news that the war was over and the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln's declaration of emancipation, which became official on January 1, 1863. The declaration of emancipation had little effect on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new executive regulation. With the surrender of General Lee in April 1865 and the arrival of General Granger's regiment, however, the armed forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.

Granger read the proclamation: "The people of Texas are being informed that, according to a proclamation by the United States executive, all slaves are free. This implies absolute equality of rights and property rights between former masters and slaves and the link between them so far becomes that between employer and freelancer. "The answer was electric.

The reactions to this profound news ranged from sheer shock to instant cheers. While many lingered to learn about this new relationship between employer and employee, many who had left before these offers had completely disappeared from the lips of their former "masters" – proof of the different conditions on the plantations and the realization of the Freedom. Even if they couldn't go anywhere, many believed that leaving the plantation would be their first feeling of freedom. The North was a logical destination and a true freedom for many, while the desire to reach family members in neighboring states drove some to Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma. The settlement in these new areas as free men and women brought with it new realities and the challenges of establishing a previously non-existent status for blacks in America. Telling the memories of that great day in June 1865 and its celebrations would serve both as a motivation and as a relief from the growing pressures in their new territory. The celebration of June 19 was called "June 19" and grew with the increasing involvement of descendants. The June 19 celebration was a time to calm each other down, pray, and gather remaining family members. Juneteenth was also highly revered in Texas decades later, and many former slaves and descendants made the pilgrimage to Galveston annually on that day.

This documentary, produced by the Texas Institute for the Preservation of History and Culture, tells the whole story.

Part 2 and part 3.

Unfortunately, we know only too well that the blacks continue to suffer from the legacy of past enslavement and systemic racism. For the post-emancipation story, I recommend reading Douglas Blackmon's Slavery by Another Name or looking at the PBS documentation.

It wasn't until I started examining another branch of my family that I found a connection to Galveston and Juneteenth. A family member in my tree, Idella Gibson, was born slave in Galveston in 1861. Her mother, freed by the proclamation, escaped Texas, moved north with her children, and left a life of rape and coercion.

Idella Gibson born enslaved in 1861 (TX)Idella Gibson

Why am I talking about rape? Here you see a picture of a black woman. She has a light complexion and hair with a straight texture. She inherited her phenotype from an owner or supervisor. This was the case with far too many enslaved women.

My family tree contains blacks of all colors, from ecru to ebony. Not all are the result of enslavement – recent examples come from interracial marriages, but I've used many of the photos from the previous group to teach students about the unscientific construction of "race" here in the United States. Visit Teaching about Race: 101 and take the quiz. See how well you're doing.

I am sitting here today at the beginning of a movement that is again trying to draw attention to a buried story while I call friends and family to wish them a “happy Juneteeth”. The names and faces of those who have died remain with me.

I also think of the young people who march and fight back. I greet them all. I can no longer walk, my health does not allow it, but I can add my support in other ways. I look forward to November when we can start cleaning the house and hopefully celebrate June 19, 2021 on the road to eliminating the racism that is crippling us.

Raise your voices, raise your fists … and don't forget to register to vote!

Give me this plate of cabbage green, with some watermelon and red soda water on the side.

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