by the way…

…you’re free.  Have been for two and a half years, but who’s counting?

I mean, can you even imagine!?  Finding out you’d just slaved away for, well, nothing.  I suppose that’s an oxymoron or something.  It’s also what happened in Texas back in 1865.  Somehow it took 2.5  years for news of the end of the war and emancipation of the slaves to reach Texas.  Word finally arrived on June 19th, 1865.  We call it Juneteenth.  It’s a national holiday.  Nobody wished me a Happy Juneteenth though.  I don’t think it’s common knowledge.  And I do think it should be.

Be free!


Juneteenth celebration in Eastwoods Park, Austin, 1900 (Austin History Center)

Today in Texas History: Juneteenth

Hillary Sorin

On this date in 1865, Union General Gordon Granger (November 6, 1822 – January 10, 1876) read the Emancipation Proclamation in Galveston, thus officially ordering the freeing of 250,000 slaves in Texas. Since then, many African Americans celebrate Juneteenth as a distinct Independence Day, marking freedom from bondage.

Most Americans assume that President Abraham Lincoln’s issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, on January 1, 1863, abolished slavery. In truth, the majority of African Americans remained enslaved after that date. The Emancipation Proclamation applied only to Confederate States. The Proclamation did not free black slaves in Border States like Maryland, Kentucky, West Virginia and Delaware, where slavery was practiced. The Proclamation targeted the Confederacy, precisely where American law held no emotional or political authority.

Juneteenth marks the abolition of slavery in Texas. The news of freedom inspired celebrations by African Americans across the state, as well as reflections on and strategies regarding the future of the Texan black community as freed people. Historian Palomo Acosta writes, “The first broader celebrations of Juneteenth were used as political rallies to teach freed African Americans about their voting rights.”

The Freedmen’s Bureau organized the first official Texas Juneteenth celebration in Austin in 1867. Since 1872, Juneteenth has remained a part of the calendar of public events. Juneteenth often includes a host of events and activities which people of all ages can enjoy. The day is often marked by dance, theater and musical performances, as well as by sport activities and barbecues. “Lift Every Voice” remains a popular and traditional song performed at most Juneteenth celebrations held across the country.

Juneteenth declined in popularity in the 1960s as the Civil Rights movement was gaining momentum. Calls for integration lessened the importance of black only events as African Americans tried to end de jure and de facto segregation. The rise of the Black Power Movement in the 1970s renewed interest in Juneteenth as many African Americans advocated for recognition of the uniqueness of the African American experience while also advocating for integration and equality in the country’s political, economic and educational spheres.

In 1979, state Rep. Al Edwards, a Houston Democrat, introduced a bill into the Texas legislature calling for the recognition of Juneteenth as a public holiday in the state of Texas. A state-supported Juneteenth celebration took place a year later.

Juneteenth illustrates two challenges facing the black community in the post civil rights era — fighting racism and the ideology of race while, at the same time, communicating the fact that, although the concept of race has no scientific basis, the color of one’s skin in America continues to inform the American experience on both a personal and community level. Simply stated, race may not be real, but it is lived. Juneteenth reflects this dual reality for the African American community.

Today, Texas and 29 other states recognize Juneteenth as an official public holiday. Last year, Representative Sheila Lee Jackson spoke in support of a resolution commemorating the historical significance of Juneteenth, which marks the end of slavery in the United States.

Today, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison introduced legislation honoring Juneteenth Independence Day as a federal holiday. In a statement released by the senator, she stated, “By commemorating this day, the U.S. Senate will honor the role that Juneteenth has played in African-American culture in Texas and throughout the Southwest, and it will remind us that, in America, we are all blessed to live in freedom.”

the child was exhibited yesterday

in my search for vintage images of mulatto folks i recently stumbled upon a gem!!   Joan P. Gage is a journalist and a collector of photographs.  on her blog A Rolling Crone she shares one of her collectibles and the fascinating (and still unfolding) story behind it.  i feel all kinds of ways about this piece of our history (and by “our” i do mean mulatto, i do mean american, i do mean human seeing as everything is everything and all.)  anyway, i feel sad for the little girl.  i feel pride for the little girl.  i feel a sense of satisfaction that i can point to this child and to the efforts charles sumner as evidence that, even way back when, a white man and a white-looking black child attempted to change people’s minds (way back)when it would have been much easier (not to mention safer!) to relish in the societal refuge that their phenotype offered.  i am not implying that the attempt was perfect, nor that there is nothing offensive or off-color about the sentiment behind the message.  but, if you consider the general consensus of the times on this matter, i think it safe to view sumner’s cause as a benevolent one.  i wonder how little mary felt.  i wonder if she understood.  i wonder what her parents looked like.  and her siblings.  i assume there’s a reason that they were not photographed or ‘exhibited’ together.  and i wonder how they felt about that, about all of it.  and what became of all of them…

From a New York Times article dated March 9, 1855, which read:
A WHITE SLAVE FROM VIRGINIA. We received a visit yesterday from an interesting little girl, — who, less than a month since, was a slave belonging to Judge NEAL, of Alexandria, Va. Our readers will remember that we lately published a letter, addressed by Hon. CHARLES SUMNER, to some friends in Boston, accompanying a daguerreotype which that gentleman had forwarded to his friends in this city, and which he described as the portrait of a real “Ida May,” — a young female slave, so white as to defy the acutest judge to detect in her features, complexion, hair, or general appearance, the slightest trace of Negro blood. It was this child that visited our office, accompanied by CHARLES H. BRAINARD, in whose care she was placed by Mr. SUMNER, for transmission to Boston. Her history is briefly as follows: Her name is MARY MILDRED BOTTS; her father escaped from the estate of Judge NEAL, Alexandria, six years ago and took refuge in Boston. Two years since he purchased his freedom for $600, his wife and three children being still in bondage. The good feeling of his Boston friends induced them to subscribe for the purchase of his family, and three weeks since, through the agency of Hon. CHARLES SUMNER, the purchase was effected, $800 being paid for the family. They created quite a sensation in Washington, and were provided with a passage in the first class cars in their journey to this city, whence they took their way last evening by the Fall River route to Boston. The child was exhibited yesterday to many prominent individuals in the City, and the general sentiment, in which we fully concur, was one of astonishment that she should ever have been held a slave. She was one of the fairest and most indisputable white children that we have ever seen.

From “Raising Freedom’s Child—Black Children and Visions of the Future after Slavery,” written by a University of New Orleans professor, Mary Niall Mitchell:

By the eve of the Civil War, abolitionists recognized the potential of white-looking children for stirring up antislavery sentiment…Although it was the image of a raggedy, motherless Topsy that viewers might have expected to see in a photograph of a slave girl, it was the “innocent”, “pure,” and “well-loved” white child who appeared, a child who needed the protection of the northern white public.
George Thomson’s Woodcut Illustrations

The sponsors of seven-year-old Mary Mildred Botts, a freed child from Virginia, may have been the first to capitalize on these ideas, as early as 1855. Her story also marks the beginning of efforts to use photography (in Mary Botts’s case, the daguerreotype, as the carte-de-visite format was not yet available) in the service of raising sentiment and support for the abolitionist cause.”
“…In his own characterization of Mary Botts,” Mitchell continues, “Sumner set a pattern that other abolitionists would follow.  In a letter printed in both the Boston Telegraph and the New York Daily Times, he compared Mary Botts to a fictional white girl who had been kidnapped and enslaved, the protagonist in Mary Hayden Pike’s antislavery novel Ida May:  ‘She is bright and intelligent—another Ida May,’ [Sumner wrote] ‘I think her presence among us (in Boston) will be more effective than any speech I can make.’”

From joanpgage, the blogger (and current owner of the daguerrotype) from which I am re-blogging this piece:

Only a year after parading Mary Botts through New York, Boston and Worcester and dubbing her “The real Ida May”,  Charles Sumner’s devout abolitionist views  led him to a crippling disaster, when, in 1856, he was so badly beaten on the floor of the Senate by South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks,  who broke a cane over his head, that it would take years of therapy before Sumner could return to the Senate.

…Prof. Mitchell is currently working on a book about Mary Botts that will tell more about this former slave’s life, including the drama of how Sumner purchased her and spirited her out of Virginia, how he introduced her to the media and society as a  living advocate for the abolitionist cause, and how her family settled in the free black community in Boston.

I’m eager to learn the rest of the story, but, for now, it’s enough of a thrill just to know that the daguerreotype, taken in 1855, that is part of my collection may represent one of the first efforts EVER to use the modern discovery of photography to touch people’s emotions and change their minds.  This small image of a seven-year-old girl may be an example of the first time photography was used for propaganda, but it was certainly not the last.




speaking of isabella fowler…

So here’s what came from my search for more on Isabella Fowler.  In these paragraphs excerpted from Black Slaveowners: free Black slave masters in South Carolina, 1790-1860 by Larry Koger we see where the intraracial divide between mulattoes and “negroes”started.  I must admit that I am disappointed (to say the least) in the behavior of these privileged “biracials.”  I cannot defend the behavior.  Don’t want to.  On the other hand, it’s easy for me to sit in judgement in the year 2010 when my freedom and my opportunity for advancement are not on the line.  I would love to believe that back then, were I given the choice I would free my people.  That I would not see myself as separate from or better than, and that the only privilege I would take advantage of would be the one by which I could exercise my right to right some wrongs and provide an opportunity for others to be liberated and elevated alongside me.  I would love to believe that… but circumstances were different and I can’t possibly know how I would have behaved.  I do know that none of those attitudes/ideals have taken root in me, yet the accusations continue to be hurled and conclusions jumped to.  All of that being said, it’s 2010 and the time for ridding ourselves of these old paradigms of house slaves vs. field hands is long overdue. Maybe by 2012… according to Willie Lynch (perhaps a mythical “legend”) that’s when the stronghold of slave conditioning will lose it’s grip.

The mulatto children of slave masters, who were accepted as legitimate heirs, held a position in the household of their fathers which placed them in a superior status over the other slaves.  These children were accustomed to the master-slave relationship; however, they conceived of themselves not as slaves but slave masters.  In spite of the fact that they were of African descent, the white blood that ran through their veins separated them from their fellow black slaves on the estates of their fathers.  For example, the children of Michael Fowler, a white planter of Christ Church Parish, and his black companion named Sibb were raised in an environment which condoned slavery.  According to Calvin D. Wilson, in 1912, “there was a rich planter in Charleston named Fowler who took a woman of African descent and established her in his home…. There was a daughter born, who was called Isabella; the planter insisted that she should be known as Miss Fowler.”  Clearly Michael Fowler expected his slaves to serve and regard his mulatto children as thought they were white.  So the offspring of Fowler were treated as little masters and mistresses by the slaves of their father.

In fact, the process of cultural assimilation was so complete that the children of Michael Fowler, once reaching maturity and inheriting their father’s plantation and slaves, chose to align themselves with the values of white slaveowners rather than embracing the spirit of freedom and liberty espoused by the abolitionists.  In 1810, the estate of the deceased Michael Fowler was divided among his mulatto children….  When the descendants of Michael Fowler received their slaves, manumission was still the privilege of the slaveowners; however, none of the heirs chose to emancipate their slaves… Undoubtedly, the children of Michael Fowler considered slavery a viable labor system and chose to hold their slaves in bondage.

Mulatto children were not always acknowledged as the offspring of white slaveholders.  However, upon the death of their owners, they occasionally were manumitted and provided for once freed.  These children  probably were unaware of the bond of kinship to their owners.  Yet that bond allowed them to receive preferential treatment from their slave masters.  The unknowing mulatto offspring of white slaveowners often were trained as house servants or artisans.  Although they were not acknowledged as the children of slave masters, their encounter with the culture of their masters influenced them to become slaveowners.

In fact, the slaves of both mixed and unmixed racial heritage who served as house servants or artisans accepted certain aspects of the culture of white slaveowners.  Regrettably, the close interaction with the Southern culture influenced many slaves to identify with their owners.  For the house slaves, the contact with their masters and mistresses perpetuated the difference between themselves and the majority of the slaves who tilled the soil.  The house servants were taught to consider themselves superior to the common field hands.  Furthermore, the house slaves’ conception of superiority was reinforced by their dress, food, and housing, which was slightly better than that given to the field hands.  So it was that they separated themselves from the field slaves and occasionally accepted the values of their slaveowners and looked upon slavery as a justified institution.  As a consequence, they envied the life of splendor that their owners enjoyed and viewed slavery as a means of obtaining the luxuries possessed by their masters.