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.”

sambo meets jim crow

i thought this worth sharing.  i’ve been questioning myself as to why i keep posting these old negative images… what’s my point?… how is this helping?… i’m not exactly sure, but i think it has something to do with wanting everyone to examine the framework from which our racial paradigm originated.  to see how these notions of majority vs. minority (and all of the implications held therein) came to be ingrained into our national subconscious… how they continue to be perpetuated on some level by today’s media/advertising… and how, perhaps, we just take it all for granted… “it’s just the way things are, the way we are”… but it’s all so preposterous… things can be any way we choose to make them, any way we choose to see them… choose to see ourselves and each other…

The Black Conscription.

When Black Meets Black Then Comes the End(?) of War.

Punch, Volume 45, September 26, 1863, p. 129

To modern sensibilities, this is one of the most offensive of Tenniel’s cartoons, as its theme is the notion that black men are incapable of becoming good soldiers. In a (wholly hypothetical) meeting of Union and Confederate black troops on the battlefield, martial ardor dissolves into comic stereotype. The Northern conscript is identifiable by his striped trousers. His Southern counterpart, dressed in a white cotton uniform distinguished only by a capital letter “S” on his belt and bandolier, breaks into an open-mouthed grin and begins to caper as the two clasp hands. Behind them, surrounding their respective flags, representatives of the two black conscript armies socialize with obvious amiability, forgetting all pretense of military discipline. In word balloons, the Northern soldier asks “Dat you Sambo? Yeah, yeah!” while his Southern counterpart responds “Bless my heart, how am you, Jim?”

While the ranks of Northern black regiments ultimately included many “contraband” fugitives from slave states, the earliest black troops (such as the famed 54th Massachusetts) were recruited exclusively from the free black populations of Northern states. Many of these units acquitted themselves bravely on the field of battle. Officially, there was no conscription of blacks as combat soldiers by either side: all were volunteers. While blacks were used by the Southern forces throughout the war in non-combat roles (especially as laborers for tasks such as the construction of fortifications), the raising of black troops to fight for the Confederacy, though proposed cautiously by a few within the military, was vehemently resisted by most Southerners as deleterious to the slave system until the war was almost over. There is no record that the few units of black Confederate soldiers, organized during the final weeks before the fall of Richmond (nearly eighteen months after the publication of this cartoon), ever met black Union troops in combat. The name Sambo, the “characteristic” dialogue of the two principal figures, and the capering dance of the Southern black soldier all are based on the stage caricatures of blacks presented by (mostly white) actors wearing burnt-cork makeup in the minstrel shows popular during the mid-nineteenth century, some of which had toured to London.

The cartoon’s subcaption is a play on the old English proverb “When Greek meets Greek, then comes the tug of war,” a way of describing a situation in which two sides are so equally matched that neither is likely to prevail. Its use is documented as far back as the seventeenth century, and it had been quoted by the popular novelist Anthony Trollope as a chapter title in Doctor Thorne, published a few years prior to the Civil War in 1858.

African Americans in the Tenniel Cartoons

Black Americans appear in twelve of the cartoons. Tenniel tends to treat them in a condescending, stereotypic manner. In his own time such images were doubtless regarded as humorous; the modern reader is more likely to see them as examples of blatant racism. Southern slaves are typically shown wearing simple white cotton work shirts and short trousers, and are usually barefoot [601201610119;650506]. Free Northern blacks are sometimes differentiated by their better-dressed appearance, including long trousers and shoes [620809630808]. Blacks (always male) are alternatively the hapless victims of oppression by the Southern slavocracy [610119], the dupes of Lincoln and his Black Republican cronies [620809630124], or gleeful observers of the white man’s cataclysmic war [610518;620913]. Tenniel and his contemporary British audience seem a bit too eager to dismiss out of hand the notion that blacks themselves had the capacity to be good soldiers, willing to fight and die for their freedom [630926641119] — perhaps because of concerns about the possible implications of such a radical idea for the future of their own Anglo-Saxon Empire’s dominion over darker-skinned people around the world.

The cartoons’ captions and text balloons often contain examples of pseudo-black dialect speech. While the intent is humorous, it also serves as a way to underscore the presumed social and intellectual gulf between the childlike, uneducated African American and Punch‘s sophisticated, urbane, upper-class readers. It is unlikely that Tenniel and his colleagues were familiar with actual black speech. As an avid patron of the theatre, Tenniel may have attended performances by American minstrel troupes, some of which had toured to London. In these shows, white actors in burnt-cork blackface makeup parodied the “characteristic” language, music, and dancing of blacks (who in many American cities were not themselves permitted to appear on stage). From the vantage of hindsight, we can see today that the minstrel shows allowed the dominant white culture to use humor to depersonalize blacks and perpetuate stereotypes of racial inferiority.

Scene From the American “Tempest.”Punch, Volume 44, January 24, 1863, p. 35

In Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, the misshapen slave Caliban is promised his freedom by a pair of drunken rogues, Stephano and Trinculo. Although they desire only to use the gullible Caliban to accomplish their own selfish ends, they gain his trust by feigning friendship and equality. In Act III, Scene 2, they gleefully plot with him to take vengeance on his master, Prospero, by destroying his property, murdering him, and ravishing his daughter.

Many in the South feared that newly emancipated slaves would violently turn upon their erstwhile masters. Apparently these fears were also shared by some in England. Here, Lincoln stands in for Stephano and Trinculo, handing a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation to a slave and giving tacit approval to the black man’s desire to take revenge upon his former oppressor.


more on the civil war

I’ve been sucked into the Civil War on the great interweb today.  Haven’t even watched Glory yet.  I’m so fascinated by this history.  Most of the photos and information in this post were found on one of Life Magazine’s photo galleries dedicated to the Civil War.  I must say that I would bet money that the man in the photo entitled Ready to Fight is a mulatto.  To call him biracial for the sake of political correctness would not be historically accurate, and sounds as preposterous to me as do all of the captions claiming that “African Americans” are depicted in the photos.  White folks of the day had a difficult enough time even agreeing that they were human beings… 3/5ths of a person… That’s one of the reasons that I currently hate to use that terminology.  We don’t go around being so specific with Irish Americans, or Italian Americans, or German Americans.  Still seems like some 3/5ths mentality to me.  That is just my opinion though.  I am also of the opinion that the difference between what was going on in the Union Camp in the photo entitled At Your Service and the goings on in the Confederate camp photo titled Off the Clock is… absolutely nothing.  Contrary to popular youtube belief, I am not one of those Yankees who thinks that the Union and President Lincoln were perfect and had nothing but the best of intentions for black people.  Nor am I under the impression that if I dug back far enough in my family tree, I would find abolitionists and/or soldiers fighting for the North.  Quite the contrary, I’m almost positive.  That’s why my existence is a miracle!  Of course everyone’s is, I’m just sayin’… today… in light of this complex history… how did I even happen?


First Blood

Even before blacks were officially recognized as federal soldiers, many slaves — including the man in this portrait, known as Nick Biddle — escaped and joined Union lines. In 1861, Biddle was the orderly of a white Pennsylvania militia officer and, wearing a uniform, traveled with his employee’s company to Baltimore to help protect Washington, D.C., after the surrender of Fort Sumter. Once there, he was set upon by a pro-Confederate mob, attacked with slurs and a brick that hit him in the head so severely it exposed his skull. Some consider him the first man wounded in the Civil War.


The Grave of Nick Biddle:
By Chaplain James M. Guthrie

The grave of Nick Biddle a Mecca should be
To Pilgrims, who seek in this land of the free
The tombs of the lowly as well as the great
Who struggled for freedom in war of debate;
For there lies a brave man distinguished from all
In that his veins furnished the first blood to fall
In War for the Union, when traitors assailed
Its brave “First Defenders,” whose hearts never quailed.

The eighteenth of April, eighteen-sixty-one,
Was the day Nick Biddle his great honor won
In Baltimore City, where riot ran high,
He stood by our banner to do or to die;
And onward, responsive to liberty’s call
The capital city to reach ere its fall,
Brave Biddle, with others as true and as brave,
Marched through with wildest tempest, the Nation to save.

Their pathway is fearful, surrounded by foes,
Who strive in fierce Madness their course to oppose;
Who hurl threats and curses, defiant of law,
And think by such methods they might overawe
The gallant defenders, who, nevertheless,
Hold back their resentment as forward they press,
And conscious of noble endeavor, despise
The flashing of weapons and traitorous eyes

Behold now the crisis—the mob thirsts for blood:-
It strikes down Nick Biddle and opens the flood—
The torrents of crimson from hearts that are true—
That shall deepen and widen, shall cleanse and renew
The land of our fathers by slavery cursed;
The blood of Nick Biddle, yes, it is the first,
The spatter of blood-drops presaging the storm
That will rage and destroy till Nation reform.

How strange, too, it seems, that the Capitol floor,
Where slaveholders sat in the Congress of yore,
And forged for his kindred chains heavy to bear
To bind down the black man in endless despair,
Should be stained with his blood and thus sanctified;
Made sacred to freedom; through time to abide
A temple of justice, with every right
For all the nation, black, redman, and white

The grave of Nick Biddle, though humble it be,
Is nobler by far in the sight of the free
Than tombs of those chieftains, whose sinful crusade
Brought long years of mourning and countless graves made
In striving to fetter their black fellowmen,
And make of the Southland a vast prison pen;
Their cause was unholy but Biddle’s was just,
And hosts of pure spirits watch over his dust.


Ready for a Fight

A black soldier poses with his revolver in 1865. Many military leaders didn’t believe African Americans were capable of fighting effectively at first, but battles including the one at Port Hudson…proved them wrong.


Mulatto Confederate Soldier Daniel Jenkins and his wife. Jenkins was with the Confederate 9th Kentucky Infantry and was killed at Shiloh on 4/6/62.-VIA


Off the Clock

Confederate soldiers at their campsite play poker, while drinking and smoking between battles, with two slaves serving them.

At Your Service

Four white Union soldiers sit outside their tents at Warrenten, Va., as an African American soldier hands a bottle and a plate of food to one of them, in 1862.
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Women in the War: Mary Walker, American Hero

Caption: Mary Edwards Walker (1832-1919), US Civil War doctor, wearing her Medal of Honor in 1866. Walker was awarded the medal in November 1865 for her service in the US Civil War (1861-1865). She served in the Union Army in several battles, first as a nurse and later as the first-ever female US Army Surgeon. She was captured in April 1864 by Confederate forces and accused of spying, though she was later released. After the ordeal, the government awarded Walker the Medal of Honor for her bravery, the only woman to ever given such an honor.  After the war, she was involved in the temperance movement and the women’s rights movement. She would often wear men’s clothes, and campaigned for dress reform for women. This photograph is from the Matthew Brady Collection, a collection of photographs from during and after the US Civil War.

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Caption: Mary Edwards Walker (1832-1919), US surgeon. Walker received her medical degree from Syracuse Medical College in 1855. During the US Civil War (1861-1865) she served as the first female surgeon in the US Army. She was awarded the Medal of Honour for her wartime service, an award revoked in 1917 and restored in 1977. Walker also campaigned on women’s rights and suffrage, and was well-known for wearing male dress, including a top hat. This photograph dates from between 1911 and 1917. It is from the Harris and Ewing Collection, which mostly consists of photographs taken in Washington DC, USA.



War Orphans Used in Propaganda

An African American brother and sister, both former slaves, pose for a photograph after being freed by Union soldiers in Virginia in 1864. The children’s mother was beaten, branded, and sold at auction because she had been kind to Union soldiers.

Free Children

The same brother and sister are photographed after having been sent to an orphanage in Philadelphia.

Jumping Ship

In some cases, having blacks in their ranks worked against the South, as with Robert Smalls, a slave forced to serve in the Confederate Navy (which permitted slaves to serve with their masters’ consent — technically so long as African Americans made up no more than 5 percent of the crew). Smalls took over his CSA ship and delivered it to Union forces, became a ship pilot in the U.S. Navy, and rose to the rank of captain. Smalls…later became a member of the South Carolina State House of Representatives.


Advertisements for slaves, such as the one by William F. Talbott of Lexington, Ky., were commonplace while Lincoln was growing up.Photo: © PoodlesRock/Corbis

Slavery Lasted Longer in the Union Than in the Confederacy

Slavery technically existed in the North longer than it did in the South, as the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation only applied to the states that had seceded. The Union slave states of West Virginia, Maryland, and Missouri abolished slavery during the war. Kentucky and Delaware, however, continued allowing slavery until the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery throughout the United States in December 1865.
The riots in New York : the mob lynching a negro in Clarkson-Street.

New York City Considered Seceding From the Union

Though New York is viewed by much of America as the emblematic Northern city, it was actually a hotbed of pro-South and anti-war sentiment before and during the Civil War, not least because the city thrived on trade with cotton plantations. In January 1961, Mayor Fernando Wood even tried to convince the City Council to officially secede from the Union and declare itself a neutral city-state. Anti-war feelings crested with the bloody Draft Riots in July 1863, when working-class New Yorkers went on a rampage to protest new laws Congress passed to institute a draft.

The Great Emancipator Rejected Emancipation at First

Though he’s now lauded as the man who freed the slaves, President Abraham Lincoln was routinely lambasted by the abolitionists of his time for not moving fast enough or far enough in ridding the country of the institution of slavery. When the Emancipation Proclamation finally was issued, it exempted the Union border states, Tennessee, seven counties of Virginia, New Orleans, and 13 Louisiana parishes. It also implicitly offered Southern secessionist states a chance to keep their slaves if they rejoined the Union by Jan. 1, 1863.

on this day in american history

it was the beginning of the end… when will it really end?  i think it’s a great day to re-watch the movie Glory.

150 Years Later, America’s Civil War Still Divides


On April 12, 1861, the first shots of the Civil War rang out in South Carolina.

Confederate forces, firing on the Union garrison at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, helped launch a four-year war that would kill more than 620,000 soldiers.

It’s been nearly 150 years since the war began. But even now, the city of Charleston is still figuring out how to talk about the war and commemorate the anniversary.

Defending The Confederate Story

Think back 150 years to what led up to those first shots on Fort Sumter: Abraham Lincoln had just been elected president, promising to restrict the growth of slavery. That prompted South Carolina, on Dec. 20, 1860, to become the first state to secede from the Union.

Last December in Charleston, there was a re-enactment of that Secession Convention. It was followed by a Secession Ball — billed as “a joyous night of music, dancing, food and drink.”

Costumed revelers waltzed and sang Dixie. Many South Carolinians were appalled; the NAACP protested outside.

“There was some criticism,” says South Carolina state Sen. Glenn McConnell. “But I don’t let that bother me.”

McConnell re-enacted the role of the president of the Secession Convention, D.F. Jamison. “It was a fiery speech,” McConnell says. “And I gave it verbatim because I was not gonna be part of sanitizing it or making it appear to be something other than it was.”

A fervent Civil War re-enactor, McConnell brings some heavy artillery with him to the battleground: his own 3,000-pound cannon, known as “Big Ray.”

“Made out of marine bronze, it’s a beautiful thing. It looks like a stick of gold,” he says. “But it can bark — and it can bark loud.”

McConnell is active with the Sons of Confederate Veterans and wants to defend their story, making sure it doesn’t get overshadowed in this year’s commemorations.

“I’ve taken the position that the best way that we can stand up is to try to tell our story, and tell it in the context of, we’ve got a shared historical experience,” he says. “And you don’t have to like something, just tolerate it. Political correctness is almost now the new narrow-mindededness.

“To me, that’s not what we should be about,” he adds. “We should be about being able to say what we think, show what we respect — and you can accept it, reject it, but it doesn’t have to be to the exclusion of the other.”

But there are fears that this anniversary will rekindle old hatreds. How do you honor the Confederate cause without also honoring the institution of slavery?

Righting The Wrongs Of The Past

At Charleston’s Old Slave Mart Museum, you’ll hear the sound of heartbeats.

“It’s so soft that it’s usually subliminal,” says museum director Nichole Green. “It’s just representing in this space the enslaved person … and the anxiety that they must have felt.”

The museum is in the old Ryan’s Mart — a narrow, low-ceilinged building where Green estimates that at least 10,000 slaves were put on the auction block and sold.

The museum displays newspaper ads from the time. “Prime gang of 27 orderly country-raised negroes,” reads one. Among them:

Hercules: prime field hand.

16-year-old Richard: field hand — lost one eye.

Young Patty, age 3.

Green says she’s hopeful the sesquicentennial is part of a healing process.

“The fear that I have is that they … will try to use the sesquicentennial to divide people rather than bring them together,” she says. “And I just have to work harder to make sure that that doesn’t happen.”

Many people in Charleston talk about using this anniversary to right the wrongs of the Civil War centennial, 50 years ago. Then, it was celebrated as a joyful tribute to South Carolina’s Confederate heritage. Now, many remember the 1961 anniversary with embarrassment.

Back then, white Charlestonians gathered with cocktails in hand to cheer fireworks and the re-enactment of the assault on Fort Sumter. Longtime Charleston Mayor Joe Riley was then a freshman cadet at The Citadel, the historic military college. He remembers watching that segregated celebration.

“[People were] celebrating something that we now quite solemnly understand was the beginning of a terrible tragedy that was caused because the South was dependent upon the inhumane practice of slavery,” he says. “And 50 years ago, there was close to universal denial among white Southerners that slavery was the cause.”

The Men Of The 54th: A Story Of African-American Bravery

Among the many stories that wouldn’t have been told 50 years ago: a story of African-American valor on Morris Island, in Charleston Harbor.

The movie Glory showed what happened here in 1863. The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry — one of the first official black units of the Union army — took huge losses. It was a slaughter, really, as they launched an assault.

“It was a battle that the 54th lost,” says Civil War re-enactor Joseph McGill. “The Confederate forces were successful in holding the fort, but the 54th did manage, indeed, to prove themselves as soldiers.”

McGill wears his Civil War history as close as his Union blues. He’s a re-enactor of Company I with the 54th Massachusetts Regiment.

“The centennial was an opportunity — I think a missed opportunity,” he says. “As African-Americans, we were engaged in a larger fight — a fight for civil rights. And with that, some scholarship — some stories that were told may have gone unchallenged.


U.S. Colored Troops

“There we were, 50 years ago, still fighting the battles that the men of the 54th had already won for us.”

And now?

“Oh we’ve made a lot of progress,” he says. “I was in Washington, D.C., in my Civil War uniform with a bunch of other African-American Civil War re-enactors marching in the inaugural parade for our current president.”

‘It’s My Family; It’s Our People’

The man who encouraged McGill to become a re-enactor — and then trained him how to do it right — is Randy Burbage.

Burbage has 11 Civil War uniforms in all, both Confederate and Union. “In fact,” he says, “we probably portray Union soldiers more than we do Confederates around here, because it’s hard to get real Yankees this far South.

“You know, it’d look bad for 500 Confederate soldiers to lose a battle to 10 Union soldiers, wouldn’t it?”

Burbage is past commander of the South Carolina division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He feels a strong connection to his 56 Confederate ancestors.

Talk about the Civil War, and he’ll also mention what happened to his great-great-grandmother when the Union Army occupied Charleston in 1865.

“She was here with the children, and while she was out searching for food for the kids one day, she was raped on the streets of Charleston by a Union soldier while officers watched this happen,” he says. “She never spoke again the rest of her life — it was such a traumatic experience for her.”

On April 12, for the 150th anniversary, Burbage will raise a Confederate flag outside his home. It’s not a racist symbol, in his view. But he’s mindful that Confederate commemorations can be taken that way.

“We gotta be careful how we do this,” he says, “because we don’t want to project that image that we are some sort of racist organization or individuals, because we’re not.”

Burbage knows just how close to the surface these tensions are — and how fraught with emotion the Civil War still is.

After that controversial Secession Ball in December, he met with the NAACP to try to talk through their differences. “I attempted to explain why I feel the way I feel, and listen to the way they feel the way they do,” he says. “It didn’t go too well. It resorted to some name-calling and accusations.”

Burbage says members of the NAACP wanted him to admit that his ancestors were traitors. Months later, his eyes well up with tears as he talks about it.

“Oh yeah it gets to me, it gets to me some,” he says. “It’s my family; it’s our people. And it’s part of our mission as descendants of Confederate veterans to defend their good name and be guardians of their history. And I take that mission pretty seriously.”

There’s a lot riding on it, Burbage says. “I think this next five years is going to be a crucial part of us mending those fences and moving on from what happened 150 years ago.”

Beginning Saturday, if there’s no government shutdown, there will be a single beam of light shining up from Fort Sumter to the sky.

At 4:30 a.m. on April 12 — the moment the first shot was fired in 1861 — that beam of light will split to symbolize the division of the nation.