by Jeremiah Fortson
If you are anything like I was in mid June of 1991, at which time I was a 34 year old Black American male living in the 3rd ward of Houston, Texas, in a housing area off of Collingsworth and Elysian Streets, I was made incredulous when I first found out about a Texas holiday called “Juneteenth”.
I was asked by a friend to help clean up a large vacant lot that at one time held a large corner market but was now a vacant lot filled with weeds, trees and tree brush, trash and all types of debris.
This lot was to be cleaned up by myself and others so that the neighborhood could celebrate Juneteenth on it. When I asked “What in the heck is Juneteenth”, because I had never heard of such a celebration in all of my years of grade nor high school, college, neither military life, nor my national or my worldly travels. In the most exact first explanation of terms that I was given, I was told that “Juneteenth is celebrated because we were the last state to find out we were free."
As I stated, I was incredulous. I kept asking those people around me at the time “Why in the world would you be celebrating to find out last of all and even years after the entire country knew that every slave was free but you did not for better than two years?”
But for the life of me everyone that I knew in my circle of friends knew nothing else to tell me other than what I quoted, but to a person they all seemed to be ecstatic and overjoyed about the upcoming Celebration because the crew was given two weeks to clean up the vacant lot.
On the day of the celebration it was a Raucous Affair, lots of BBQ, Ribs, Pork, Beef and Chicken, all types of music, all different types of people, an all day long event that lasted from practically sun up to sun down. People of all ages from all over the Third Ward of Houston, Texas, in 1991 took part.
"The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer."
Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas, with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. - Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation - which had become official January 1, 1863.
The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.
Later attempts to explain this two and a half year delay in the receipt of this important news have yielded several versions that have been handed down through the years.
Often told is the story of a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas with the news of freedom. Another is that the news was deliberately withheld by the enslavers to maintain the labor force on the plantations. And still another is that federal troops actually waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. All of which, or none of these versions, could be true.
Certainly, for some, President Lincoln's authority over the rebellious states was in question. For whatever the reasons, conditions in Texas remained status quo well beyond what was statutory.
Needless to say, I have since learned and taught myself to respect the Celebration of Juneteenth by Black Native Texans and I do understand why it is so important now.
Once again I thank God for the Republican Party and for Great men like President Abraham Lincoln and our present day Republican President, President Donald John Trump, who follows in his mold.
- Jeremiah Fortson lives in the Tampa Bay Area of FL. He is a native of Lakeland, FL, and served in the USMC. He attended the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and the University Of South Florida, Tampa. Jeremiah is an avid active member of the LDS Church, a Boy Scout leader and local business owner.
Jeremiah is also a member of the Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee. His opinions are his own and not necessarily those of the HCREC.