JUNETEENTH: BIRTH OF AN AFRICAN AMERICAN HOLIDAY
In a brief article for the Eugene Register Guard I described the origins of the Juneteenth holiday. Part of that article is reprinted below.
Freedom came in many guises to the four million African Americans who had been enslaved at the beginning of the Civil War. Some fortunate black women and men were emancipated as early as 1861 onward when Union forces captured outlying areas of the Confederacy such as the Sea Islands of South Carolina, the Tidewater area of Virginia (Hampton and Norfolk) or New Orleans all before January 1863. Other black slaves emancipated themselves by exploiting the disruption of war to run away to freedom, which in some instances was as close as the nearest Union Army camp. President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation liberated all blacks residing in territory captured from the Confederates after January 1, 1863. These slaves did not have to run for their freedom, they merely had to wait for Federal troops to arrive.
Emancipation for the majority of African Americans, however, came only in 1865 when Confederate commander Robert E. Lee surrendered his army to Federal forces....at Appomattox Court House in Virginia. With that surrender the....rebellion was over. News of Lee's surrender spread quickly through the former slave states east of the Mississippi River. Texas, however was another matter. Isolated from both Union and Confederate forces, Texas during the Civil War, had become a place of refuge for slaveholders seeking to insure that their "property" would not hear of freedom. Through April, May, and part of June, 1865, they did not. Finally on June 19, 1865, freedom officially arrived when Federal troops landed at Galveston, Texas. Word of emancipation gradually spread over the state despite the efforts of some slaveholders to maintain slavery.
But African Americans would not be denied the liberty that had eluded them so long. When the news came entire plantations were deserted. Many blacks brought from Arkansas, Louisiana and Missouri during the War, returned home while Texas freedpersons headed for Galveston, Houston and other cities where Federal troops were stationed. Although news of emancipation came at different times during that Texas summer of 1865, local blacks gradually settled on June 19 (Juneteenth) as their day of celebration. Beginning in 1866 they held parades, picnics, barbecues, and gave speeches in remembrance of their liberation. By 1900 the festivities had grown to include baseball games, horse races, railroad excursions, and formal balls. By that time Juneteenth had officially become Texas Emancipation Day and was sponsored by black churches and civic organizations. Indeed, Juneteenth had become so respectable that white politicians including various Texas governors addressed the largest gatherings (which sometimes included upwards of 5,000 people) in Houston and Dallas. Juneteenth had surpassed the Fourth of July as the biggest holiday of the year for Texas African Americans.
With the migration of African Americans from Texas to the West Coast particularly during World War II, Juneteenth simultaneously declined in Texas and grew in the emerging black communities of Los Angeles, Oakland, Portland, Seattle, and San Diego. And some communities east of Texas such as Washington, D.C., and Birmingham, Alabama, began celebrations as well. But by the 1970s many blacks, including those in Texas, had forgotten the holiday's origins and its significance in African American history....
Source: Quintard Taylor, "The Juneteenth Celebration, 1865-1992," Eugene Register-Guard, June 8, 1992, pp. 1D, 4D.
THE POST WAR SOUTH A DEFEATED PLANTER LOOKS BACK
Previously Edward Barnell Heyward, the South Carolina planter wrote his Northern friend, James A. Lord explaining why the South would declare its independence and offering reasons for its success if the Northern states attempted to block the secession. In 1866 Heyward again wrote his friend but now historical events mandated a far different letter.
22 Jan y 1866
My dear Jim
Your letter of date July 1865, has just reached me and you will be relieved by my answer, to find, that I am still alive, and extremely glad to hear from you.
I have...thought that you had been among those who had joined the Army, and had given your life, for the cause, in which your nation seems to much pride itself, at this time; but I do not suppose so by your letter.
I am quite well, & have my family around me. During the war, I found time to get married again, and now have a most lovely woman, & baby eighteen months old at my elbow. My daughter died during the war, and my Son is now a tall fellow who would astonish you by his size.
Our losses have been frightful, and we have, now, scarcely a support. My Father had five plantations on the coast, and all the buildings were burnt, and the negroes, now left to themselves, are roaming in a starving condition. Our farm near Charleston was abandoned to the negroes, leaving provisions, mules & stock. All is now lost, and the negroes, left to themselves, have made nothing, and seek a little food, about the city. Our Residence in the city, was sacked, and all the valuable furniture stolen and the houses well riddled by shell & shot. Our handsome Residence in the country was burnt. The Enemy passed over all our property on the coast in the march from Savannah to Charleston, the whole country, down there, is now a howling wilderness... We live twenty miles from Columbia [the state capital]. Some of my relatives were there, during the occupation by Sherman, and suffered the terrible anxieties & losses of that dreadful event.
I served in the Army, my brother died in the Army, and every family has lost members. No one can know how reduced we are, particularly the refined & educated.
My Father and I, owned near seven hundred negroes and they are all now wandering about like lost sheep, with no one to care for them... They very naturally, poor things, think that freedom means doing nothing, and this they are determined to do. They look to the government, to take care of them, and it will be many years, before this once productive country will be able to support itself. The former kind treatment of the slaves, and their docile and generous temper, makes them now disposed to be quiet & obedient: but the determination of your Northern people to give them a place in the councils of the Country and make they the equal of the white man, will at last, bear its fruit, and we may then expect, them, to rise against the whites, and in the end, be exterminated themselves.
As soon as able, I shall quit the Country, and leave others to stand the storm... I feel now I have no country, I obey like a subject, but I cannot love such a government. Perhaps the next letter, you get from me, will be from England.
Source: Stanley I Kutler, Looking for America: The People's History, Vol. I, (New York: W.W. Norton, 1979), pp. 463 465.
"SEND ME SOME OF THE CHILDREN'S HAIR"
Sometime before the Civil War Laura Spicer and her children were sold from their husband and father. They wanted to reunite after emancipation but her husband had remarried. The husband, who remains anonymous except to Laura, wrote a letter describing the pain of their separation and yet wishing Laura would find another husband to care for the family. The letter is reprinted below.
I would much rather you would get married to some good man, for every time I gits a letter from you it tears me all to pieces. The reason why I have not written you before, in a long time, is because your letters disturbed me so very much. You know I love my children. I treats them good as a Father can treat his children; and I do a good deal of it for you. I am sorry to hear that Lewellyn, my poor little son, have had such bad health. I would come and see you but I know you could not bear it. I want to see and I don't want to see you. I love you just as well as I did the last day I saw you, and it will not do for you and I to meet. I am married, and my wife have two children, and if you and I meets it would make a very dissatisfied family.
Send me some of the children's hair in a separate paper with their names on the paper. Will you please git married, as long as I am married. My dear, you know the Lord knows both of our hearts. You know it never was our wishes to be separated from each other, and it never was our fault. Oh, I can see you so plain, at any-time, I had rather anything to had happened to me most than ever to have been parted from you and the children. As I am, I do not know which I love best, you or Anna. If I was to die, today or tomorrow, I do not think I would die satisfied till you tell me you will try and marry some good, smart man that will take care of you and the children; and do it because you love me; and not because I think more of the wife I have got then I do of you.
The woman is not born that feels as near to me as you do. You feel this day like myself. Tell them they must remember they have a good father and one that cares for them and one that thinks about them every day-My very heart did ache when reading your very kind and interesting letter. Laura I do not think I have change any at all since I saw you last.-I think of you and my children every day of my life.
Laura I do love you the same. My love to you never have failed. Laura, truly, I have got another wife, and I am very sorry, that I am. You feels and seems to me as much like my dear loving wife, as you ever did Laura. You know my treatment to a wife and you know how I am about my children. You know I am one man that do love my children....
Source: Herbert Gutman, The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom 1750-1925 (New York, 1926) pp. 6-7.
In the account below historian Jacqueline Jones describes the attitudes of both Northerners and Southerners to what they described as the particular insolence of black women.
Defenders of the notion of early Victorian (white) womanhood could not help but be struck by black women who openly challenged conventional standards of female submissiveness. Freedwomen were described as "growling," "impertinent," "impudent," "vulgar" persons who "spoke up bold as brass" and. with their "loud and boisterous talking," demanded fair treatment for "we people [left] way back." In the process of ridiculing these women, northerners often indirectly revealed their ambivalent attitudes toward black men. Apparently an aggressive woman existed outside the realm of "natural," male-female relationships; her own truculence must be counterbalanced by the weakness of her husband, brother, or father. But ironically in such cases, male relatives were often perceived to be much more "reasonable" (that is, prone to accept the white man's point of view) than their vehement womenfolk.
For example, John De Forest [Freedman's Bureau officer] later recounted the respective reactions of an elderly couple who had used up in supplies any profit they might have earned from a full year's labor. The man remained "puzzled, incredulous, stubborn," and insisted there must be some mistake. His wife was not about to accept the situation so politely: "trembling with indignant suspicion [she] looked on grimly or broke out in fits of passion... 'Don' you give down to it, Peter,' she exhorted. 'It ain't no how ris'ible that we should 'a' worked all the year and git nothing' to go upon.'" De Forest, who elsewhere complained of black "female loaferism" prevalent in the area, showed a curious lack of sympathy for this hardworking woman. In other cases, Yankee planters, professed abolitionists, responded to the demands put forth by delegations of female field hands with contempt for their brashness.
Source: Jacqueline Jones, Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work, and the Family from Slavery to the Present, (New York, 1985), pp. 70-71.
PRESIDENT JOHNSON MEETS BLACK LEADERS
On February 7, 1866, Frederick Douglass, George Downing and other black leaders met with President Andrew Johnson at the White House. This, the first meeting between an American president and black political spokesmen, showed the wide disparity between the President's views on voting rights for the ex slaves and those of the assembled black activists. Part of the exchange is reprinted below.
Mr. Fred. Douglass advanced and addressed the President, saying:
Mr. President, we are not here to enlighten you, sir, as to your
duties as the Chief Magistrate of this Republic, but to show our respect, and to present in brief the claims of our race to your favorable consideration. In the order of Divine Providence you are placed in a position where you have the power to save or destroy us, to bless or blast us I mean our whole race. Your noble and humane predecessor placed in our hands the sword to assist in saving the nation, and we do hope that you, his able successor, will favorably regard the placing in our hands the ballot with which to save ourselves.
We shall submit no argument on that point. The fact that we are the subjects of Government, and subject to taxation, subject to volunteer in the service of the country, subject to being drafted, subject to bear the burdens of the State, makes it not improper that should ask to share in the privileges of this condition.
I have no speech to make on this occasion. I simply submit these observations as a limited expression of the views and feelings of the delegation with which I have come.
Response of the President:
In reply to some of your inquiries, not to make a speech about this thing, for it is always best to talk plainly and distinctly about such matters, I will say that if I have not given evidence in my course that I am a friend of humanity, and to that portion of it which constitutes the colored population, I can give no evidence here... All that I possessed, life, liberty, and property, have been put up in connection with that question, when I had every inducement held out to take the other course... If I know myself, and the feelings of my own heart, they have been for the colored man...
I am free to say to you that I do not like to be arraigned by someone who can get up handsomely rounded periods and deal in rhetoric, and talk about abstract ideas of liberty, who never perilled life, liberty, or property. This kind of theoretical, hollow, unpractical friendship amounts to but very little. While I say that I am a friend of the colored man, I do not want to adopt a policy [of voting rights for negroes] that I believe will end in a contest between the races, which if persisted in will result in the extermination of one or the other. God forbid that I should be engaged in such a work!
Source: Leslie H. Fishel and Benjamin Quarles, The Negro American: A Documentary History, (Glenview, Ill., 1967), p. 135.
RECONSTRUCTION AMENDMENTS, 1866 1870
ARTICLE 13 Slavery Abolished
1) Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
2) Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
This amendment was proposed to the State Legislatures by the 37th Congress on February 1, 1865, and was ratified December 18, 1865. It was rejected by Delaware and Kentucky; was conditionally ratified by Alabama and Mississippi; and Texas took no action.
ARTICLE 14 Citizenship Rights Not To Be Abridged
1) All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.
No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
This amendment was proposed to the State Legislatures by the 39th Congress on June 16, 1866, and was ratified July 23, 1868. The amendment was supported by 23 Northern states. It was rejected by Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland and 10 ex Confederate states. California took no action. It was later ratified by the 10 ex Confederate states.
ARTICLE 15 Equal Voting Rights
1) The right of the citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
2) The Congress shall have power to enforce the provisions of this Article by appropriate legislation.
This amendment was proposed to the State Legislatures by the 40th Congress on February 27, 1869, and was ratified on March 30, 1870. It was supported by 30 states; it was rejected by California, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland and Oregon. It was not acted on by Tennessee. New York rescinded its ratification on January 5, 1870. New Jersey rejected the amendment in 1870, but ratified it in 1871.
RECONSTRUCTION AMENDMENTS: OREGON'S RESPONSE
In the following vignette historian Elizabeth McLagan describes the Oregon legislature's response to the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the U. S. Constitution.
During the Civil War the [Oregon] legislature passed the last anti-black state laws, with the exception of the ban on intermarriage passed in 1866. Between 1866 and 1872, the legislature was required to consider ratification of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, which gave citizenship to black people and the right to vote to black men. It was clear, however, that these amendments were unpopular with most Oregonians.... The Oregon Statesman, in an editorial published [in 1865], predicted that giving the vote to blacks would have a revolutionary influence on society.... Full suffrage would result in a "war of the races," the editorial concluded.
If we make the African a citizen, we cannot deny the same right to the Indian or the Mongolian (the Chinese, Japanese and other Asians). Then how long would we have peace and prosperity when four races separate, distinct and antagonistic should be at the polls and contend for the control of government?
The 1866 legislature, still controlled by the [Republicans] but with a strong minority of Democrats, considered and ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, although the vote was close... The Democrats made two attempts to withdraw ratification but...these attempts failed.
This legislature also passed another law prohibiting intermarriage. It was directed not only against white/black marriages, but against anyone with "one-fourth or more Negro, Chinese or [Hawaiian] blood, or any person having more than one half Indian blood. It passed with little debate the combined vote was 47 in favor, 8 opposed and 3 absent. The penalty for disobeying the law was a prison sentence of not less than three months, or up to one year in jail. Any person authorized to conduct marriages who broke the law by marrying two people illegally was subject to the same penalty, with an additional $1,000 fine. This law was not repealed until 1951.
The legislator's reluctance to endorse the Fourteenth Amendment was the subject of debate in the local press as well. In 1867, the Eugene Weekly Democratic Review printed a vicious attack on black people.
...gaping, bullet pated, thick lipped, wooly headed, animal-jawed crowd of niggers, the dregs of broken up plantations, idle and vicious blacks, released from wholesome restraints of task masters and overseers... Greasy, dirty, lousy, they drowsily look down upon the assembled wisdom of a dissevered Union. Sleepily listen to legislators who have given them their freedom and now propose to invest them with the highest privileges of American citizenship.
Because of its rabid pro-South rhetoric, this paper had been suppressed during the Civil War.
In 1868, another attempt was made to repeal ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, declared to be ratified nationally only six weeks previously. This time the repeal passed in both chambers by a combined vote of 39 to 27. This session also recalled Oregon Senators George H. Williams and Henry W. Corbett, criticized for their support of Reconstruction. Williams was also active in the campaign to impeach President Andrew Johnson, who had become the hero of the Democratic Party for his opposition to Reconstruction. The legislature was not deluded into thinking that its actions would make any difference; the Oregonian predicted that if copies of the resolutions ever reached Congress they would probably be used to light someone's cigar...
The Fifteenth Amendment was proposed, ratified and declared in force by Congress between Oregon's 1868 and 1870 legislative sessions.... The legislative session of 1870...declared the Fifteenth Amendment was "an infringement on popular rights and a direct falsification of the pledges made to the state of Oregon by the federal government." The Fifteenth Amendment was finally ratified by the centennial legislature of 1959.
Although Oregon refused to ratify the Fifteenth Amendment, a state Supreme Court decision rendered in 1870 affirmed the right of black men to vote. The case involved the election of a county commissioner in Wasco County, and C.H. Yates and W.S. Ford, two black men who had voted... That same year the Oregonian, which five years earlier had opposed the Fifteen Amendment, ran an editorial which admitted:
There are but a few colored men in Oregon, and their political influence cannot be great. But these here are, as a rule, quiet, industrious and intelligent citizens. We cannot doubt they will exercise intelligently the franchise with which they are newly invested.
Resistance to accepting the black vote...was overcome not by a change in attitude, but because Oregonians realized that federal civil rights legislation had to be acknowledged, if not endorsed. By 1870, change was inevitable, so Oregonians acquiesced. Blacks were granted civil rights under the terms imposed by the federal government, without the endorsement of the state legislature. Oregon's black population was small and posed little threat to the established order. The period of enacting racist legislation had ended, but it would be many years before the legislature would begin to take an interest in passing laws that would allow black people to enjoy equal rights as citizens of the state.
Source: Elizabeth McLagan, A Peculiar Paradise: A History of Blacks in Oregon, 1788-1940 (Portland, 1980), pp. 68-74.
BLACK VOTING RIGHTS: OTHER VIEWS FROM THE FAR WEST
In an 1870 editorial the Olympia (Washington Territory) Commercial Age
outlined its position on black voting by publishing a long letter on the subject from one of its local readers. The paper's position is reprinted below. The second vignette from the English-language Honolulu Friend indicates that the debate over black voting rights extended beyond the boundaries of the United States when in 1865 the newspaper urged that suffrage be granted to the newly freed slaves.
Olympia: Although the Fifteenth Amendment does not particularly affect us in this Territory, as the colored folks have been voters among us for sometime already, yet it will be a matter of much importance in both Oregon and California. The following from an exchange contains much truth and will prove of interest to many of our readers:
"The number of colored men whose right to vote will be established by the Fifteenth Amendment is estimated at 850,000. Of these 790,000 are in the South, 41,000 in the states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana; 7,500 in New England, and 8,500 in the remaining Western States. These statistics we find in the [Baltimore] Sun, and assume that they are approximately accurate.
These 850,000 black men may perhaps hold the balance of power between the two political parties in the next presidential election and for a long time to come. If the Democratic party persists in its long time inveterate hostility to the negro, some of the closely divided states will in all probability be insured to the Republicans by the negro vote. Among these states we may mention Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Ohio. But will the Democratic party be so stupid as to drive these new voters en masse into the Republican fold? We doubt it. On the contrary, we expect to see that party making special efforts to win these voters enough of them, at least, to divide their strength. But, if the Republicans are true to themselves and their principles, they will have a decided advantage over their opponents in this struggle at least, so far as the more intelligent of the negroes are concerned.
The negroes know, of course, that they owe their enfranchisement to the Republican party, while they have every reason for regarding the other party with aversion and distrust. But they cannot all be expected to take the highest view of their obligations as citizens; and many of them, will, no doubt, be ready to fall into the snares which unscrupulous Democrats will be sure to lay in their path. The Republicans, moreover, are by no means all saints, nor all entirely exempt from the spirit of estate. Mean men in this party, as in the other, will, no doubt, continue to behave shabbily toward the new made voters, thus helping the Democrats to "divide that they may conquer." It will be a happy day for the country when the people shall no more care to inquire whether a voter or a candidate for office is white or black than whether he is tall or short."
Honolulu: In glancing over the files of the American papers, the most prominent question of discussion appears to be the status of the negro. Shall he, or shall he not be admitted to all the civil and political rights of the white inhabitants? This is the question. Of course there is a great difference of opinion upon the subject. Such men as Chief Justice Chase, Senator Sumner, and a host of leading men of the Republican party, take the ground that the negro should now be permitted to vote and enjoy all the privileges of the white population.
In our opinion these men occupy the only consistent and correct ground. The negro has nobly fought for the country, and now not to allow him all the rights and privileges enjoyed by his fellow soldiers would be wrong. A loyal negro, true to his country and the flag, is surely as good a citizen as a rebel, although he [the rebel] may have recently take the oath of allegiance. We hope Americans will start aright this time. Give the colored man a fair start, and let him try for himself. We believe most fully in the doctrine that all men should enjoy equal civil and political rights. The tendency is towards that point in all lands. Revolutions go not backward.
Sources: The (Olympia, Washington Territory) Commercial Age, March 26, 1870; The Honolulu Friend, reprinted in the San Francisco Elevator, October 13, 1865, p. 1.