I was looking around recently for some background to the famous Pole-Bearers address given by Nathan Bedford Forrest in July 1875 at Memphis. In his speech to the Freedmen’s group, Forrest emphasized the importance of African Americans building their community, participating in elections, and both races moving forward in peace. Just prior to making his remarks, Forrest was presented a bouquet of flowers by an African American girl, and responded by giving the girl a kiss on the cheek. This single event is sometimes cited as proof that the former slave dealer and Klan leader “wasn’t a racist” or some similar nonsense, as if that modern term had much import in mid-19th century America.
I’ll have more to say about the Pole Bearers speech another time, but if you ever wondered how Forrest’s actions that day were perceived by at least some of his former comrades in gray, now we know. They weren’t happy about it, and went to considerable efforts to say so – publicly. From the Augusta, Georgia Chronicle, July 31, 1875, p. 4:
EX-CONFEDERATES —– Meeting of Cavalry Survivor’s Association. —– A called meeting of the Cavalry Survivor’s Association was held at the Irish Volunteers’ Hall last evening. The amended constitution as reported by the committee, was unanimously adopted. Captain E. Eve said: “Comrades, we are ordered to meet to revise out constitution and by-laws; it is in the hands of an able committee ably, I trust, they have perfected their labors, but while here assembled there is one incident that has transpired upon which I wish to throw your disapproval and have recorded in our archives, although performed by as gallant a cavalryman as ever used sabre over an enemy’s brain; yet let us prove that the old esprit du corps still lives, and that we endorse no action unworthy of a Southern gentleman. I speak of the address delivered before a black and tan audience by Gen. N. B. Forrest. With what a glow of enthusiasm and thrill of pride have I not perued the campaigns of Gen. Forrest’s cavalry, their heroic deeds, their sufferings and their successes under the leadership of one whom I always considered (in my poor judgment) second only to out immortal Hampton? And now to mar all the lustre attached to his name, his brain is turned by the civilities of a mulatto wench who presented him with a bouquet of roses. We would rather have sent him a car filled with the rarest exotics plucked from the dizziest peaks of the Himalayas or the perilous fastness of the Andes than he should have thus befouled the fair home of one of the Confederacy’s most daring general officers. What can his object be? Ah! General Forrest! [snip] Wherefore be it Resolved, that we, the Survivor’s Association of the Cavalry of the Confederate States, in meeting assembled at Augusta, Ga., do hereby express our unmitigated disapproval of any such sentiments as those expressed by Gen. N. B. Forrest at a meeting of the Pole Bearers Society of Memphis, Tennessee, and that we allow no man to advocate, or even hint to the world, before any public assemblage, that he dare associate our mother’s, wives’ daughters’ or sisters’ names in the same category that he classes the females of the negro [sic.] race, without, at least, expressing out disapprobation. The resolution was unanimously adopted and ordered spread on the minutes.
Geez. Sounds like they were mad, huh?
With the push to purge this country of Confederate Memorials, I must wonder if those politically correct thugs would dare tear this monument down? It commemorates the bravery and courage of the Black Confederate Regiments in Mississippi that dared to do their solemn duty to their country and defend Vicksburg from the foreign invaders from the North! My hat’s off to those who fought and gave their lives in defense of our Country!
This monument stands in Vicksburg National Military Park. It was dedicated in 2004 to two Union regiments, the 1st and 3rd Mississippi Infantry (African Descent), that were later reorganized as the 51st and 53rd U.S. Colored Infantry, respectively.
Lawrence Aylett Daffan (right, 1845-1907) is a collateral Confederate ancestor of mine, one of a few who left behind any detailed account of his wartime service. He led a remarkable life. His family moved to Texas from Conecuh County, Alabama in 1849. After his father died in July 1859, fourteen-year-old Lawrence went to work to help support his widowed mother, carrying the mails between Montgomery and Washington Counties, Texas, in 1859. Later, at the time of the 1860 U.S. Census, Lawrence was working as a wagoner. In the spring of 1862, shortly after his 17th birthday, he enlisted at Anderson, Texas in Company G of the Fourth Texas Infantry. He fought in the major engagements of his regiment, part of the famous Texas Brigade, including Second Manassas, Sharpsburg, Gettysburg, and Chickamauga. It was in this last action that he received what he jokingly described as his only wartime injury, a very slight one, when a Minié ball struck his rifle and knocked him down. It was at Chickamauga, too that he witnessed the incident where John Bell Hood was wounded, that Daffan believed to be a case of friendly fire. Private Daffan was captured at Lenore Station in November 1863, during the Chattanooga Campaign, and spent the remainder of the war as a prisoner at Rock Island, Illinois.
Returning to Texas in July 1865, Daffan soon found a job as a brakeman on the Houston & Texas Central Railroad. The postwar decades were boom times for the railroads in Texas, which expanded rapidly. Daffan moved his way up steadily through the company, successively serving as conductor, train master, station agent, and, from 1889, superintendent of the railroad’s Second Division.
In 1872, he married a local girl from Brenham, Mollie Day, and together they had six children, four sons and two daughters. All of their children survived to adulthood, all of them had good educations, and the eldest, Katie, became a noted author in her own right. Although he had little formal schooling himself, Lawrence Daffan valued education highly, and reportedly was an avid reader, though mostly of conventional tastes — Shakespeare, Milton, Dickens, and, of course, the Bible. He was active in a wide range of fraternal organizations, and especially dedicated to Confederate veterans’ activities, including the Hood’s Texas Brigade Association, an effort which earned him the honorific title of “Colonel,” which he carried proudly until his death.
Lawrence Daffan was seriously injured in a train derailment near Corsicana in September 1898, losing two fingers and being severely banged up. Though he recovered, his health was much more precarious after that. He stepped down as superintendent of the H&TC’s Second Division in 1904, to become General Agent for Transportation for the entire railroad, a position he held until his death. In January 1907, at the age of sixty-one, Daffan was suddenly taken ill at his office in Ennis. Carried to his home a few blocks away, he died there that evening. Obituaries were printed in newspapers across the state, and tributes, floral arrangements and formal resolutions from groups he belonged to were published in the paper. His funeral was one of the biggest events Ennis had seen. The H&TC ran special, free trains from Denison at the northern end of the line, and Houston at the southern, to Ennis to accommodate hundreds of mourners who came to town just to pay their last respects at the funeral.
Lawrence Daffan as Superintendent of the Second division of the Houston & Texas Central Railroad, Ennis, Texas. c. 1900. This photo, and the one at top, are from Katie Daffan’s My Father as I Remember Him.
Daffan was, by all accounts, a respected and admired member of his community — multiple communities, in fact: civic, professional and veteran. He was a self-made man in the best, 19th-century sense of the term, starting out after the Civil War as a twenty-year-old veteran with little education and few prospects, worked his way up to the top levels of his profession. He provided for his widowed mother, his siblings and his own family, saw to his children’s education, and worked for the growth and betterment of his community. He was, in almost every respect, an exemplar of 19th century success through hard work and dedication to traditional values of home, family and church.
He was also a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
You’re all familiar with the dust-up over Paula Deen’s comments on race (admitted and alleged), and there’s no point rehashing that mess again here. But I would like to throw a little historical light on something she last year, referring to her g-g-g-grandfather, John A. Batts of Lee County, Georgia:He had lost his son, he had lost his war, he didn’t know how to deal with life with no one to help operate his plantation. . . . Between the death of his son, and losing all the workers, he went out I’m sure into the barn and he shot himself because he couldn’t deal with those kinds of changes, and they were terrific changes. . . . I feel like the South is almost less prejudiced because black folks played such an integral part in our lives. They were like our family.
Note that Deen can’t quite bring herself to use the word “slave” — they’re “workers.”
Now, a lot of white Southerners buy into this line. They insist that their ancestors had nothing to do with slavery, or if they did, their slaves “were like our family” and they were uniformly kind and benevolent masters. It’s a comforting rationalization, usually based on exactly nothing more than several generations’ worth of family lore. But as we saw with the case of Andrew Chandler and Silas Chandler, the beloved stories held dear by the descendants of slaveholders are often very different from those descended from those who were enslaved.
What’s surprising about Deen’s case is that she seems to have made up this tale about her ancestor on her own, and quite recently. Because until a year or so ago, when Georgia College Professor Bob Wilson laid it out for her, Deen had no idea her ancestor had “workers.”
Wilson: The main source of wealth for Southern planters, when you see a figure like that, is gonna be in people. Deen: [Pause] Oh. Wilson: So let me show you this document here, see what it’s called right up there [at the top]. Deen: “Slave inhabitants.” John Batts. [Counting] Thirty-five. That’s a lot. I have said so many times, “well, my family was never involved in slavery, in any way. It’s horrific, and it’s sad.”
She also said, “If I could go back and talk to [John Batts], I would do everything in my power to convince him not to participate in the heinous act of slavery.”
But that was way back in 2012, and since then she’s convinced herself that Batts’ bondsmen and -women “were like our family.”
Believe me, I understand how disturbing it is to learn from a slave schedule that your g-g-g-grandfather was a slaveholder. But there’s nothing to be done about that. Deal.
There’s a whole lot more to John Batts’ story, though, and it doesn’t mesh very well with her image of a simple farmer, caught up in the turbulent time that ripped apart his “family” and deprived him of his “workers.”
John A. Batts was born in 1814 in Miller County, Georgia. He and his wife, Mary, relocated to Lee County sometime in the late 1830s, and John began to establish himself as a planter. By the late 1840s, Batts was representing Lee County on a regional committee to develop plans to build a railroad line through that part of the state to the Georgia Central Line at Macon.
Batt’s service on the railroad committee may have been his entre into the political arena. From the mid-1850s, Batts ran for or served in a variety of elected offices. In 1856 he was a Democratic nominee to serve as a justice of the Georgia Inferior Court, which position may be where his title of “Judge Batts” was earned. He served a term in the Georgia House of Representatives beginning in November 1857. In August 1860, Batts was a Democratic delegate from Lee County to the state Democratic convention at Milledgeville, in support of the nomination of John C. Breckinrdige and Joseph Lane in the presidential election that year. In the fall of 1860 Batts was elected to a seat in the State Senate. Batts was a member of the Georgia Senate when that state seceded from the Union, but was not a member of Georgia’s secession convention.
With the coming of the war, John and Mary Batts’ eldest son, William, enlisted as a Private in Co. A of the 12th Georgia Infantry. After William was killed in action at the Battle of Cedar Run on August 9, 1862, Judge Batts was obliged to swear an affidavit that his dead son left no wife or heirs, in order to claim $111.30 in bounty and back pay owed to the soldier.
Judge Batts’ affidavit and power-of-attorney, filed to collect monies owed his deceased son, William.
In August 1865 John Batts applied for a formal pardon from the administration of President Andrew Johnson. Among the seventeen classes of persons ineligible for the general pardon were former Confederate citizens worth $20,000 or more. Batts applied, his application stating that “thus tho [Batts] doubts [that] he is worth twenty thousand dollars, yet he may be worth those sum [sic.] or more.” The affidavit goes on, asserting
that he admits himself to have voluntarily participated in the late rebellion, having been honestly convinced that he was acting for the best. Thus he now insists to the Government of the United States with equal honesty – thus he has taken the oath hereto attached in good faith, & with the honest intent to keep the same, & hereafter to obey the laws & Support the Government of the United States [.] That soon after the publication of Genl Gilmore’s [sic.] order in reference to the freedom of the slaves he informed his negroes [sic.] thereof and since then he has been employing them at full & proper wages. 
John Batts had no trouble referring to his alleged “family” as his slaves; why does Paula Deen?
John Batts was not ruined financially by the war. Although he undoubtedly went through hard economic times like everyone else in the region, he had gone into the war period as a wealthy man, and remained so afterward. By the time of the U.S. Census of 1870, after a decade of war and Radical Reconstruction, John Batts still was able to list assets amounting to $18,000, $13,000 of that in land. He owned 2,250 acres, making him one of the largest landholders in Lee County. In the 20 years since the 1850 census, his real property holdings had more than doubled (up from 1,000 acres), and the amount of improved land tripled, from 350 acres in 1850 to 1,100 in 1870. In that latter year Batts’ holdings produced 1,500 bushels of corn, 300 bushels of oats, 141 bales of cotton, 300 pounds of wool and 500 bushels of sweet potatoes, with smaller amounts of other products, with an aggregate value of around $16,000.
Beyond the hard numbers collected by the census enumerator, we also have a good narrative description of Batts’ plantation. That same summer, the Weekly Sumter Republican ran a letter describing the place:
On Monday last I stopped at the plantation of Judge John Batts, where I was cordially received and well taken care of by Mr. Joseph Batts, his son, under whose able management the place is conducted, and where the general thrifty appearance of things reflect credit on his energy and superintendence. In his company I rode over considerable [part] of the plantation, and partook plentifully of the fine watermelons for which his place is noted. Of his cotton crop too much cannot be said in praise, and I venture to say there is not a finer prospect anywhere in Southwest Georgia. I saw plenty waist high, and full squares. He informed me that he expects to make on the greater portion of the place, if not on all of it, a bale to the acre. We also rode over a 60 acre field of corn, some of which I could not reach when standing on a tall horse’s back. Mr. Batts says, unless the season proves unfavorable, he expects a yield of 25 to 30 bushels to the acre. I did not go over the balance of his corn, but he assured me that all on the place was good, and he would, in all probability, make more than he needed for his own use. 
At this point, it seems, many of the day-to-day operations of the farm were being handled by John Batts’ second son, Joseph, then aged about 25. (Joseph would go on to inherit the bulk of his father’s land holdings.) Nonetheless, John Batts appears to have remained active and engaged in his community during his last years, including participation in the Smithville Grange, a sort of farmer’s promotional group. 
But then, early one Sunday morning in the spring of 1878, Judge Batts put a pistol to his right temple and pulled the trigger. According to his surviving family members, he’d been suffering from depression “for months past,” and had tried several times to kill himself by ingesting morphine. According to one account, the old judge had “had many family troubles, which had partially dethroned his reason.” He was 63 years old.
Batts’ death came thirteen years after the end of the war, thirteen years after emancipation, and seven years after the end of Reconstruction. The Redeemers, hard-line white conservative Democrats, again controlled the Georgia State Assembly and had purged its Republican, African American members. Batt’s farm – plantation, as it was still referred to – was bigger than it ever had been, and noted for its success.
Whatever torments haunted Judge Batts’ thoughts when he went out to the barn that morning in May 1878, we cannot know. I don’t know, you don’t know, and Paula Deen doesn’t know, either. It’s a personal tragedy that, at this distance, is probably impenetrable. William’s death at Cedar Run, all those years before, may well have played into John Batts’ deep and ultimately fatal depression. But beyond that, it’s speculation, without any real evidence at all. Paula Deen’s rationalization that Judge Batts’ suicide must have had something to do, fundamentally, with emancipation robbing him of his “family” is a perversion, a twisting of the story to make Batts – and by extension, herself — a victim of the end of slavery in the South. It’s selfish, and it’s shameful.
Even Judge Batts deserves better.
 Southern Recorder, May 25, 1847, 3.
 Albany, Georgia Patriot, April 3, 1856, 2.
 Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Georgia (Milledgeville: Stare of Georgia, 1861).
 Federal Union, August 14, 1860. 3.
 Albany, Georgia Patriot, September 22, 1859, 2; Journal of the Senate of the State of Georgia (Milledgeville: Stare of Georgia, 1857), 5.
 Batts, William. Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Georgia, 12th Georgia Infantry, 1861-65 (NARA M266), National Archives.
 Batts, John. Case Files of Applications from Former Confederates for Presidential Pardons (“Amnesty Papers”), 1865-67 (NARA M1003), National Archives. “Genl Gilmore” is probably a reference to Major General Quincy Adams Gillmore, Commanding Officer of the U.S. Army’s Department of the South (South Carolina, Georgia and Florida) in the first half of 1865.
 1870 U.S. Census for Lee County, Georgia; Schedule 1, Inhabitants, 12; 1870 U.S. Census for Lee County, Georgia; Schedule 3, Productions of Agriculture, 4-5; 1850 U.S. Census for Lee County, Georgia, Schedule 3, Productions of Agriculture, 147-49. At the time of the 1870 census, there were 19 landowners in Lee County, Georgia with farms amounting to 1,000 acres or more; Batts’ was more than twice that size. University of Virginia, Historical Census Browser. Retrieved July 4, 2013, Geospatial and Statistical Data Center: http://mapserver.lib.virginia.edu/collections/stats/histcensus/index.html.
 Weekly Sumter Republican, July 15, 1870, 3. The writer’s impression of the overall efficiency of Batt’s farm seems to be correct, as the 1870 census suggests it had above-average production. While Batts’ 1,100 acres of improved cropland made up about 1.34% of Lee County’s total, his $16,000 in product made up about 1.58% of the county’s total agricultural production.
 Sun and Columbus Daily Enquirer, August 20, 1874, 3; Macon Telegraph and Messenger, August 18, 1874, 1
 August Weekly Sumter Republican, May 24, 1878, 3; Georgia Weekly Telegraph, May 28, 1878, 8; Columbus Daily Enquirer-Sun, May 23, 1878, 3.
One of the important secondary works on the abuse and and seizure of African Americans by the Confederate Army during the Gettysburg campaign is Ted Alexander’s 2001 North & South article, “A Regular Slave Hunt: The Army of Northern Virginia and Black Civilians in the Gettysburg Campaign.” It’s a little difficult to find, but if you haven’t read it, you really should.
On the first day of July 1863, Confederate Lieutenant General James Longstreet (left), writing through his adjutant, ordered General George Pickett to bring up his corps from the rear to reinforce the main body of the Army of Northern Virginia. The lead elements of the armies of Robert E. Lee and George Meade had come together outside a small Pennsylvania market town called Gettysburg. The clash there would become the most famous battle of the American Civil War, and would be popularly regarded as a critical turning point not just of that conflict, but in American history. More about Longstreet’s order shortly.
I was thinking about the central role of the Battle of Gettysburg in our memory of the war when I recently read an essay by David G. Smith, “Race and Retaliation: The Capture of African Americans During the Gettysburg Campaign,” part of Virginia’s Civil War, edited by Peter Wallenstein and Bertram Wyatt-Brown. All but the last page and a few citations is available online through Google Books.
It’s not a pleasant read.
The name Sam Cullom is a new one to me, but it seems he’s been celebrated in and around Livingston, Tennessee as a local Black Confederate for a while. A military-style headstone was placed over his grave about ten years ago (right), with the legend, “Pvt. Sam Cullom.” His story is told a number of places, like this 2008 piece in the Crossville, Tennessee Chronicle:Pvt. Sam Cullom of Overton County (Livingston), a slave of the Cullom family, went to war with his owner’s son, Jim Cullom. They were among the first unit to leave for Confederate duty from Overton County. They fought together in numerous campaigns until Jim Cullom was killed in the battles of the Atlanta campaign. Sam Cullom buried Jim and continued to fight with the unit until the end of the war, when he returned to Overton County. Sam Cullom’s application for a Tennessee Black Confederate pension was approved in three days of its arrival at the Confederate Pension Board in Nashville. Sam is buried in the Bethlehem Methodist Church cemetery just outside Livingston, in an area where Sam and his family were major landowners. Land in the area where the Overton County Fairgrounds sits once belonged to Sam Cullom, Black Confederate.
So here’s an assignment for those who may be so inclined. See what you can find in the way of historical documentation that supports or refutes this profile of Cullom. To get you started, here’s his 1921 pension application from the State of Tennessee, and his listing in the decennial U.S. Census for 1880, 1900, 1910 and 1920 (two pages).
Please feel to post links to other, primary sources that are useful in documenting Cullom’s life. Have fun.
In January 1865 the debate over whether to arm slaves in a last-ditch defense against the Union army was coming to a head in Richmond. The measure would eventually pass a few weeks later, in mid-March. Nonetheless, the Atlanta Southern Confederacy, publishing in Macon, continued to reject the notion that African American should, or even could, be put under arms.
We perceive the public journals continue to urge the measure of putting negroes [sic.] into the army, and we hear people talking on the street corners in favor of the measure. Put arms in the hands of the slaves, and make them fight for us, they say. We have heretofore expressed our opinion in opposition to this measure, and shall not now repeat what we then said. In continuation of our formerly expressed views, we may add a few additional suggestions now. One speedy practical result of putting negroes in the army would be the peopling of all the swamps of the South with runaway negro deserters. Trained to the use of fire arms, they would depredate everywhere on cattle, hogs, etc., and would soon be forced to resort to robbery and plunder to gain subsistence. Attempts to arrest them would be resisted, and the horrors of a servile war would be realized. Very large numbers would desert and pursue this sort of life. If they did not do this, they would desert to the enemy. With the enemy they know they would get freedom at once. With us, they would get freedom after the war, taking our promises as true. There would exist an immediate certainty of freedom on one side; an uncertainty on the other. A well disposed, faithful, and intelligent slave in this region was recently asked by his master some questions on this very point. The view I have taken of the subject in the above remarks, are simply the views of the slave referred to, and constitutes the substance of his reply to his master. Put, said the negro, the slave into any other position in the service you choose-let him dig, drive teams, build roads, do any other duty, but do not call on him to fight. . . . The negro is willing to work for us, but not to fight for us. We were passing into the car-shed of this city two days since. Some idle and vicious looking boys were directing some saucy conversation to a negro man of stalwart frame who stood near them. One of the boys said to the negro, “Uncle, why don’t you go and fight?” “What I fight for?’ asked the Ebon. “For your country,” replied the boy. The negro scowled and said instantly, “I have no country to fight for.” Now we think the negro was mistaken. We think his lot an enviable one, and that they constitute a privileged class in the community. As the toil of brain and muscle is daily renewed, amid uncertainties, for the procurement of bread for our wife and little ones, we often feel how happy we should be were we the slave of some good and provident owner. Then simple daily toil would fill the measure of duty, and comfortable food and clothing would be the assured reward. While, therefore, we think the negro was mistaken — that the South is emphatically his country while slavery exists — yet we have no idea he can be convinced of the fact sufficiently to take up arms and fight bravely for our cause as his cause, for our country as his country. But waiving all this, and supposing them to fight, and to so greatly aid us that we win our independence, what then? The fighting negroes are to be freed. What are we to do with them 1 Let them remain among us? If so, those who remain slaves may be so in name, but they will not be so in reality. Shall the free slaves then be sent out of the country1 out of the country whose independence they fought to obtain? Certainly no such reward as perpetual exile would-be either honorable to us, or just to them. Such an act on our part, would be a stigma on the imperishable pages of history, of which all future generations of Southrons would be ashamed. These are some of the additional considerations which have suggested themselves to us. Let us put the negro to work, but not to fight. 
Keep in mind that on the date this was published, January 20, 1865, Uncle Billy’s troops were marching north from Savannah into South Carolina, Fort Fisher had just been captured, closing the last Confederate port on the Atlantic, and U.S. Speaker of the House Schuyler Colfax was lobbying hard for votes to pass the 13th Amendment in Congress. Yet down in Macon, the local editor was devoting column inches to explaining how slaves were a “privileged class,” happy and contented folks, unburdened by anxiety or want: “how happy we should be were we the slave of some good and provident owner.”
You may bang your head on the desk now.
____________ Atlanta Southern Confederacy, January 20, 1865. Quoted in Robert F. Durden, The Gray and the Black: The Confederate Debate on Emancipation (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 1972), 156-58. Image: “Market Scene in Macon, Georgia,” by A. R. Waud. From here.
[This post originally appeared on June 20, 2011.]
Hari Jones, Curator of the African American Civil War Museum, drops the hammer on the movement to make Juneteenth a national holiday, and the organization behind it, the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJoF). He argues that the narrative used to justify the propose holiday does little to credit African Americans with taking up their own struggle, and instead presents them as passive players in emancipation, waiting on the beneficence of the Union army to do it for them. Further, he presses, the standard Juneteenth narrative carries forward a long-standing, intentional effort to suppress the story of how African Americans, in ways large and small, worked to emancipate themselves, particularly by taking up arms for the Union. He wraps up a stem-winder:
Certainly, informed and knowledgeable people should not celebrate the suppression of their own history. Juneteenth day is a de facto celebration of such suppression. Americans, especially Americans of African descent, should not celebrate when the enslaved were freed by someone else, because that’s not the accurate story. They should celebrate when the enslaved freed themselves, by saving the Union. Such freedmen were heroes, not spectators, and their story is currently being suppressed by the advocates of the Juneteenth national holiday. The Emancipation Proclamation did not free the slaves; it made it legal for this disenfranchised, enslaved population to free themselves, while maintaining the supremacy of the Constitution, and preserving the Union. They became the heroes of the Republic. It is as Lincoln said: without the military help of the black freedman, the war against the South could not have been won. That’s worth celebrating. That’s worth telling. The story of how Americans of African descent helped save the Union, and freed themselves. Let’s celebrate the truth, a glorious history, a story of a glorious march to Liberty.
Jones makes a powerful argument, with solid points. But I think he misses something crucial, which is that in Texas, where Juneteenth originated, it’s been a regular celebration since 1866. It is not a modern holiday, established retroactively to commemorate an event in the long past; the celebration of Juneteenth is as old as emancipation itself. It was created and carried on by the freedmen and -women themselves:
Some of the early emancipation festivities were relegated by city authorities to a town’s outskirts; in time, however, black groups collected funds to purchase tracts of land for their celebrations, including Juneteenth. A common name for these sites was Emancipation Park. In Houston, for instance, a deed for a ten-acre site was signed in 1872, and in Austin the Travis County Emancipation Celebration Association acquired land for its Emancipation Park in the early 1900s; the Juneteenth event was later moved to Rosewood Park. In Limestone County the Nineteenth of June Association acquired thirty acres, which has since been reduced to twenty acres by the rising of Lake Mexia. Particular celebrations of Juneteenth have had unique beginnings or aspects. In the state capital Juneteenth was first celebrated in 1867 under the direction of the Freedmen’s Bureau and became part of the calendar of public events by 1872. Juneteenth in Limestone County has gathered “thousands” to be with families and friends. At one time 30,000 blacks gathered at Booker T. Washington Park, known more popularly as Comanche Crossing, for the event. One of the most important parts of the Limestone celebration is the recollection of family history, both under slavery and since. Another of the state’s memorable celebrations of Juneteenth occurred in Brenham, where large, racially mixed crowds witness the annual promenade through town. In Beeville, black, white, and brown residents have also joined together to commemorate the day with barbecue, picnics, and other festivities.
It’s one thing to argue with another historian or community leader about the the historical narrative represented by a public celebration (think Columbus Day), but it’s entirely another to — in effect — dismiss the understanding of the day as originally celebrated by the people who actually lived those events, and experienced them at first hand.
What do you think?
h/t Kevin. Image: Juneteenth celebration in Austin, June 19, 1900. PICA 05476, Austin History Center, Austin Public Library.