Habari Gani: Umoja
Kwanzaa was created by the founder of the US organization, Maulana Karenga in 1966. (The letters “u” and “s” of the organization has erroneously been said to mean United Slaves, when it simply stands for us—Afrikan people.) Karenga created Kwanzaa as the first specifically Afrikan American holiday, giving Blacks an alternative to the existing holiday and giving us an opportunity to celebrate ourselves and our history. As an expression of the Black Power Movement, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society, Kwanzaa was/is an expression of self-determination that established a means of Afrikans born in Americans to reconnect with their cultural and historical heritage. Karenga established the Nguzu Saba, or the "seven principles of African Heritage" which serve as a unifying, communitarian Afrikan philosophy.
During the early years of Kwanzaa, Karenga said that it was meant to be an alternative to Christmas. In fact most of the holiday's celebrants were members of the organization—they were cultural nationalists, many leaning towards traditional Afrikan beliefs systems. Naturally, most of these early practitioners of Kwanzaa did not celebrate Christmas. As Kwanzaa gained celebrants outside of the Us organization and its supporters, many Black who were Christians began to practice it. Consequently, Karenga stated in his 1997 book, Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community, and Culture, that Kwanzaa was not created to give people an alternative to their own religion or religious holiday" and that Kwanzaa was specifically created as a cultural and not a religious observation. On the holiday's official Website, it states that "one can accept and revere the religious message and meaning [of Christmas] but reject its European cultural accretions of Santa Claus, reindeer, mistletoe, frantic shopping, alienated gift-giving, etc." Is this a contradiction? I'd like to think it is a growth in the celebration of the holiday, and that as it has expanded from its cultural nationalist base and adherents to a more popular base, adaptations have occurred. And that's real. Today many Afrikan Americans who celebrate Kwanzaa do so in addition to observing Christmas. So you can celebrate Kwanzaa in conjunction with any other holiday celebrated.
The celebration of Kwanzaa is organized around the number 7. There are seven principles of Kwanzaa, each celebrated on a different day. The principles, in order, are unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. There are also seven symbols: fruits/nuts/vegetables, place mats, ears of corn, candles, candle holders, communal cups and gifts. These seven symbols are arranged on a table at the beginning of Kwanzaa. On each day, members of celebrating households gather together to discuss the principles and perhaps read poems or perform music or dance.
Today is Umoja.
Between 1937 and 1945, the world witnessed a number of racist and nationalist atrocities that included the Japanese in China, and the Nazis in Europe. In the year 1937, perhaps starting it all off was US-trained Dominican Republic (DR) dictator Rafael Trujillo. Trujillo claiming that Haiti was harboring his former Dominican opponents ordered an attack on the border, slaughtering tens of thousands of Haitians as they tried to flee. In over a 5 day period in what became known as the Parsley Massacre from twenty to thirty thousand Haitians were murdered.
When Trujillo was elected president he defined the DR as a Hispanic nation, Catholic and White, as opposed to Haiti, which was Francophone, practiced vodou, and Black. He portrayed Haiti as both a threat and the antithesis of the DR. He feared the growing influence of Haitian culture in Dominican territory. His dread of Haitian "darkening" of the Dominican population led him to conduct a policy of "Dominicanness." Trujillo undertook to define Haitians as racially separate from Dominicans. Under Operation Perejil, Trujillo killed thousands of Haitians and dark skinned Dominicans residing on the border zone. These people were asked to pronounce the word "perejil," believed to be hard for Haitians because of the "r" and the "j". Everyone who failed at the test was systematically killed.
The event was motivated by three of Trujillo concerns: his desire to firmly establish a clear border separating the two nations; homogenize the furthest stretches of the country in order to bring the region into the social, political and economic fold; and to cleanse his republic of Haitians. Trujillo suffered from an extreme case Antihaitianismo, a racist bias against Haitians and descendants of Haitians. Under pressure from Washington, Trujillo agreed to a reparation settlement in January 1938 that involved the payment of US$750,000 but was reduced to US$525,000, which amounted to 30 dollars per victim, of only a fraction actually went to survivors, due to mismanagement and corruption in the Haitian bureaucracy.
The Dominican president and Trujillo’s ideological heir, Joaquim Balaguer, continued his policy of discrimination and racism against the Haitians. In his book, La Isla al Reves, he outlined his hopes and fears for the Dominican nation. This book is a testament to the fear that Haiti, as an Afro-Caribbean nation, instilled both in the author and the Dominican people. It warns of Haitian imperialism as a "plot against the independence of Santo Domingo and against the American population of Spanish origin." Haiti is a threat primarily for "biological reasons," its people multiplying themselves "nearly as rapidly as plants."
But perhaps more than anything else it was motivated by the history of the two nations. Haiti and the DR had been in a long-standing border disputes. Trujillo reasoned that if large numbers of Haitian immigrants began to occupy the less densely populated Dominican borderlands, the Haitian government could make a claim to the land. In addition, contraband passed freely and without taxation in these areas, thus depriving the DR revenue. Furthermore, the Dominican Government claimed Haitians were stealing cattle and crops from Dominican residents and that this affected the income of the Dominicans.
Of course Haiti and the DR have a history. On November 30, 1821, Jose Nunez de Caceres announced the colony’s independence under the name of Spanish Haiti, and sought to gain admission to the State of Gran Colombia created by Simon Bolivar. But before this transpired, in 1822, Haitians led Jean-Pierre Boyer invaded the newly independent nation. One of the first things the Haitians did was abolished slavery. Boyer encouraged the production of cash crops, reformed the tax system, and allowed foreign trade. He also nationalized most private property, including all the property of landowners who had left in the wake of the invasion. Though the new system produced a boom in sugar and coffee production it was widely opposed by Dominican farmers.
Boyer also took step to lessen the influence of Spanish culture in the DR. He believed like most Haitians that to protect their freedom the entire island must be one political entity. Thus, he sought to secure his control of the DR by the destruction of its Hispanic culture. He closed the university and starved the educational system. This caused the DR educational system to collapse. With schools lacking both resources and students, many young Dominican men were drafted into the Haitian army. Further severing the ties to Spanish culture, Boyer prevented contact between the Dominican Church and the Catholic hierarchy in Europe. Much of the Church property and all property belonging to the Spanish Crown was confiscated. Haitian occupation troops, who were largely Dominicans, were unpaid, and thereby encouraged to "forage and sack" from the Dominican middle class.
Many whites Dominicans fled to Puerto Rico, Cuba, Venezuela, and elsewhere. In the end the economy faltered as taxation became more onerous, eventually leading to Dominican ex-slaves or freedmen rebelling against Haitian rule. Ultimately, Haitians at home and Dominicans worked together to oust Boyer from power.
The root of antihaitianismo is clear: it derived from the Haitian invasion and more specifically, from Boyer’s policies aimed at destroying the DR’s Hispanic heritage. Following the overthrow of Boyer in 1843, a number of anti-Haitians movements, some pro-independence, pro-Spanish, others pro-French, pro-British, still others pro-United States, developed. In 1844, the DR’s first Constitution, which was modeled after the United States Constitution, was adopted. However, Haiti would return, continuing to threaten the nation's independence with recurring invasions in 1844, 1845–49, 1849–55, and 1855–56. Yes, Haiti and the DR have history.
In the early twentieth century, both countries had a comparable economy, but while the Dominican economy grew, Haiti's diminished as a result of factors such as internal power struggles, and rapid population growth. Add to this, environmental degradation, embargoes, and stigmatization over HIV, and today Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Hence it is only after the economic fortunes of the two nations changed that the DR’s rise was accompanied by a political show of force—bordering on historical revenge--a la the Parsley Massacre.
Black Solidarity Day (BSD) was first observed in 1969 on the campus of Brooklyn College, when Prof. Carlos Russell a friend of playwright, Douglas Turner Ward, and a playwright himself, established it as a holiday. He was inspired by Ward’s play, A Day of Absence, in which he satirically depicts a small southern town in turmoil when all the Black citizens suddenly disappeared, revealing the town's social and economic reliance on the Black community.
Russell, who was born in Panama's former Canal Zone in 1934, an accomplished poet and activist established BSD as a day of protest against injustice. Celebrated on the Monday before Election Day, BSD is a reminder to the nation of the collective strength and the potential political power of the Black community. Traditionally, this is a day in which people of Afrikan descent (and supporters) throughout the country abstain from participation in the social, political and economic affairs of the nation. With this peaceful absence, Afrikan Americans, and others, passively oppose racism, as well as social and civil injustices, on a global level. To commemorate the spirit of Black Solidarity, people are supposed to wear all Black (or a Black or silver ribbon to show their support), in-gather, discuss relevant issues, and support Black businesses.
And you thought it was a Christian holiday
Today's Halloween is first and foremost a European and American celebration. But unlike many of the holidays celebrated in Western civilization that can be traced to Afrika, Kemet in particular (by either being a Greek or Roman festival borrowed from Kemet), Halloween's Afrikan roots are less traceable, but exist nevertheless. It is an example of an Afrikan survival as will shall see. In fact, its original purpose was the most basic of Afrikan spiritual system--the veneration of the ancestors.
Although the phrase All Hallows' is found in Old English (ealra hālgena mæssedæg, mass-day of all saints), All Hallows' Eve is itself not seen until 1556. The word Halloween or Hallowe'en dates to about 1745, and is derived from the Scottish term for All Hallows' Eve (the evening before All Hallows' Day). In Scots, the word eve is even, and this is contracted to e'en or een, which in time evolved into the word Halloween. However, the actual celebration was based on the Celtic Samhain celebration, which was the traditional Celtic New Year, and at the same time a festival dedicated to the ancestors, or the “dead,” as the West likes to say.
According to some scholars, All Hallows' Eve is a Christianized feast that has two roots: western European harvest festivals, and the Celtic Samhain. Other historians have attempted to give the celebration a Roman pedigree, claiming its origins lie in the Roman feast of Pomona, or in the festival of the dead called Parentalia. These argument are less tenable. But while the argument for a harvest festival connection is plausible, the connection between Halloween and the Celtic festival of Samhain," is undeniable. In the early centuries of the first millennium A.D., before Christian missionaries such as St. Patrick and St. Columcille converted the Celts to Christianity, they practiced an elaborate religion through their priestly caste, the Druids.
Most religious scholars agree that the word Samhain (pronounced "sow-en") comes from the Gaelic “Samhuin” for "summer's end," marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. Samhain was the first and most important of the four quarter days in the medieval Gaelic calendar and was celebrated in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. It was held on or about October 31 – November 1 and kindred festivals were held at the same time of year by the various Celtic groups in Britannia. It was seen as a liminal period when spirits could more easily enter into the “human” realm. The souls of thankful kin could return to bestow blessings just as easily as that of a murdered person could return to wreak revenge. As a result of this reality, the festival had a certain ambivalence; while the spirits of the dead were welcomed (even setting a plate for them at the Dumb Supper), the unwelcome spirits were feared and propitiated to ward them off.
The Druidism or the religion of the ancient Celts believed that on their New Year's Eve, all of the people who died in the past year would rise up and search for the passageway to the netherworld. On this night the passageway or "veil" between both worlds was it's thinnest. Lord Samhain would roam the earth in search of these souls to capture them and take them to his world of darkness. The priest circled the traditional Samhain bonfire with the skulls of their ancestors in order to protect the people from malevolent souls that night, while the people put lights in their windows to help the dead find their way into the netherworld.
In 609, the Roman Church introduced All Saints (Hallows) day as a day dedicated to remembering the faithful departed believers (dead), which included saints (hallows) and Christian martyrs. The mass on All Saints’ Day was called Allhallowmas – the mass of all those who are hallowed or venerated. The new holiday became a celebration to honor any saint who did not already have a specific day already dedicated to them—hence all (other) saints were collectively recognized on this day. It was originally observed on May 13 until in 835, at the behest of Pope Gregory IV, it was deliberately switched to November 1, the same day as Samhain. This was a common practice of the church to celebrate one of their holidays on the same day as an established pagan holiday, superimposing Catholic symbolism and rites onto the existing celebration, in an effort to replace it. (In 601 A.D. Pope Gregory I issued a now famous edict to his missionaries concerning the native beliefs and customs of the peoples he sought to convert. Rather than try to obliterate native peoples' customs and beliefs, the pope instructed his missionaries to use them: if a group of people worshiped a tree, rather than cut it down, he advised them to consecrate it to Christ and allow its continued worship. Halloween is just another example of this, just as Easter and Christmas had been earlier examples of.)
The contemporary celebration of Halloween is filled with the symbolism of the Samhain's ancestor worship. For example, the jack-o-lantern, the wearing of costumes, "trick or treating" or "trunk or treating," and the association of the night with “evil” are all elements of the Samhain.
An Afrikan presence existed among the Celts, and we know this because the Roman historian Tacitus informs us that many of the Celts were as “dark as Ethiopians.” Moreover, we also see it in their obvious ancestral veneration, as reflected in Samhain. One of our problems is in trying to get a true and impartial understanding of the Samhain and Druidism in general. We get a distorted picture of the pre-Christian Celts since Christian writers customarily demonized any and every thing considered paganism. While missionaries identified their All Saints Day with Samhain, they branded the earlier religion's spiritual beings as evil, associating them with the Christian Devil and his minions. The Druids were considered evil worshipers of devilish or demonic gods and spirits and the Celtic netherworld inevitably became identified with the Christian Hell. Much of what we read about the Celts and Druidism may be typical Christian propaganda.
On the other hand, we may also be witnessing Britannia as a zone of confluence. According to Diop, this was an area of the world where the two cradles met producing a hybrid culture, with the southern cradle culture usually giving way to the more violence-prone northern cradle culture. If Druidism, as I have argued in an earlier blog was a vestige of Afrikan traditional spiritually, then we can assume it was besieged by the Roman Church and the Celts of Aryan descent. Perhaps the predilection in Druidism for the demonic was a perjoration of traditional Afrikan ancestor veneration. Unlike in traditional Afrikan ancestor veneration, the Celts seemed to be preoccupied with spirits that they were unable to identify. A ghost is nothing more than an ancestor that cannot be identified and is consequently feared. (In the Akan system if a person becomes “possessed” (goes into trance) and the forces (deity or ancestor) is not recognized or identified, it is quickly asked “what is its mission," and if a satisfactory answer in not given then the force is asked to leave and efforts are made to bring the person out of trance.) Also, the Celts were overly concerned with “witches,” which again might suggest a shift from a southern cradle to a northern cradle orientation. Oftentimes an attack on “witches” is a veiled attack on female spiritual power. Was this symptomatic of a rising misogyny among the Celts due to either Christianity or the northern cradle influence?
The Samhain was a celebration of the ancestors, and was a time when they returned to the realm of the living offering advise and counsel. This is the most fundamental aspect of Afrikan spiritually; I would say ancestor veneration is a universal feature in Afrikan devotional systems. Since at one time the entire planet was populated only by Afrikans, this must be the source of ancestor veneration wherever on the planet it is found. As other races developed from the Afrikan, they slowly rejected and rebelled against the Afrikan worldview, with ancestor veneration often being the first casualty. (Pardon the pun.) The early Celts (or at least the Black ones) and Druidism were part of that legacy and therefore Samhain was as well.
No matter how you look at it
There is debate as to the actual origin of carnival and the etymology of the word itself. Two schools of thought exist: one that gives the word a pre-Christian etymology, and the other that ties it to the Christian celebration of Lent. The latter school argues that the word is derived from the Latin carne, meaning meat, and levare, meaning to remove—thus carnival means “to remove meat” and would be associated with Lent, since meat is prohibited during this period. The former school argues that carnival comes from the Middle Latin carne vale, with carne meaning flesh and vale, meaning farewell, giving us "O flesh, farewell!” a phrase actually embraced by certain carnival celebrants who encourage letting go of your former (or everyday) self and embracing the carefree nature of the festival. This would also link the celebration to the earlier orgiastic celebrations of the ancient world.
In terms of the actual celebration, we find these same two schools, the pre-Christian and Christian origins schools, expounding their arguments. For this blog, it is the pre-Christian argument that we will pursue. Since the word carnival is European, we naturally look to the origin of the celebration in Europe. While medieval pageants and festivals such as Corpus Christi were church-sanctioned celebrations, carnival appears to have been a manifestation of medieval folk culture. Many local carnival customs are based on local pre-Christian rituals. Apparently these rituals go back to when Rome ruled ancient Europe. The ancient Roman festivals of Saturnalia and Bacchanalia may possibly be there sources. The Saturnalia, in turn, may be based on the Greek Dionysian festival. The Greek Dionysian festival is the oldest celebration of this kind we can trace to the West. So what we have is the festivals of Saturnalia, Bacchanalia, and Dionysia, apparently influencing the European pagan tradition and specifically carnivals in Italy. It is clearly from Italy that many of the traditions associated with carnival are derived. Some of the best-known traditions, including parades and masquerading, were first recorded in medieval Italy. The carnival of Venice was for a long time the most famous carnival. From Italy, carnival traditions spread to the Catholic nations of Spain, Portugal, and France.
But the Romans also had another pre-Christian tradition that powerfully influenced ancient Europe. While nascent Christianity existed in Europe, and was headquartered in Rome, the Romans continued to celebrate the Navigium Isidis (ship of Isis). The annual Navigium Isidis or Isidis Navigium was held on March 5. Like later Italian carnival celebrations, the Isidis Navigium consisted of a parade of masks following an adorned wooden boat, reminiscent of the floats of modern carnivals. The festival outlived Christian persecution by Theodosius and was still celebrated in Italy at late as the year 416. In Roman Egypt, it was suppressed by Christian authorities in the 6th century.
The importance of the Isidis Navigium cannot be overlooked. Its celebration was an extension of the most popular cult in the Roman empire, and the cult that most directly evolved into Christianity--the cult of the Madonna and child. This cult was actually the veneration of Auset (Isis) and Heru (Horus) of Kemet/Egypt, and had originally been a trinity that included Ausar (Osiris), but in Ptolemaic Egypt, his attributes merged with the hybrid deity, Serapis, and he in turn, with Pluto, the god of death. Slowly, Ausar was associated with death and became a negative force, the antithesis of his wife Auset. As a result the Romans dropped him from the triad. Soon the cult of Isis began to rival the cults of Jupiter and Mithras. The Romans revered Isis most in her role as mother and in Roman iconography, she and Heru are portrayed as black skinned.
Shrines to these Black icons at one time could be found all over Europe. Diop believes Parisii, a city in Kemet, meaning “Temple of Isis,” is where the name Paris comes from indicating that city was dedicated to her. Moreover, according to Budge many qualities of Auset were bestowed upon the Virgin Mary. He explains that in her character of the loving and protecting mother she appealed strongly to the imagination of all Eastern peoples among whom her cult came, and that the pictures and sculptures wherein she is represented in the act of sucking her child Horus [Heru] formed the foundation for the Christian figures and paintings of the Madonna and Child. Several incidents of the wanderings of the Virgin and Child in Egypt as recorded in the Apocryphal Gospels reflect scenes in the life of Isis [Auset] as described in the texts found on the Metternich Stele, and many attributes of Isis, the Godmother, the mother of Horus . . . are identical with those of Mary the Mother of Christ.
Again as in the case of many “pagan” traditions and celebrations, the Catholic church would co-opt the Isidis Navigium, and I would argue that it is this tribute to Auset or the Black Madonna that actually gave birth to the European carnival tradition and not any other festivals. What did the church used to co-opt this festival--the Corpus Christi festival, which was very popular in the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal). And just like the holidays Christmas and Easter were bastardized and co-opted from Kemetic celebrations, Corpus Christi would be used to co-opt the Isidis Navigium, and it in turn would give rise to the European carnival tradition. In medieval times this festival included many elements we now associate with carnival, and in many parts of Europe it included the performance of mystery plays.
But we would be guilty of historical shortsightedness, if we did not trace the origins of carnival back further in history to the herew renpet celebration in Kemet, since it is the oldest carnival-like celebration in history (history does not mean the first or even the oldest, it simply means that is recorded, written). The Kemetic calendar consisted of 360 days, with an additional five days upon the year,” called the herew renpet, together giving us a 365- day year. Every year during the herew renpet, the Ausarian Drama came to life. The festival was a re-enactment of the struggle between Set and Heru. It began with the death of Ausar and the resulting disorder. These abnormal times or primordial days corresponded to humanity during its cannibalistic or uncivilized state, i.e., before the arrival of culture. (In Kemetic history any period of disorder was seen as analogous to primordial times.) Behavior at these festivals was identical to that of similar rituals in other Afrika societies (especially interregnums). The laws of culture did not apply as this was not cultural time. Unconventional behavior marked these five days. There were mock battles (using sticks), dancing and singing. Women sang praise songs to Ausar and carried about phallic symbols. The festival ended with the enthronement of Heru and the restoration of cultural time. But we would be remissed or at least derelict in our historical duty again, if we did not go further back in time to the Molimo festival of the Mbuti.
The Molimo festival serves as a sacrificial ritual that breaks down society, in order to renew it. At the heart of the festival and key to its therapeutic ability to breakdown and rejuvenate society. Before the start of the Molimo festival, a new campsite is selected that will be emblematic of the impending renewal. Once the elders establish the date of the festival and until it begins, women can openly vent their sorrows, even to the point of self-afflictions, gashing themselves. They fill this pre-Molimo period with hunting, dancing and singing. The dances act out hunts or dramatize myths, while they fill their singing with reproductive metaphors. Youth will engage in mock battles and even destroyed the homes of troublemakers. The entire Mbuti social structure is turned upside down—it is sacrifice, with the understanding that with death comes renewal.
Although it is commonly believed that Carnival was brought to Afrikan people by their Catholic enslavers, this not true. To begin with carnival itself the European inherited from Afrikan cultures, particularly Kemet/Egypt, but moreover, the enslaved Afrikan already had rituals and celebrations that approximated carnival. What did Afrikan did is introduced their cultural expression into the carnival, especially since Catholicism retained more of its Afrikanism, in terms of structure and practice, than Protestantism. Catholicism has a tradition of worshiping the saints, offering sacraments, which the former allowed Afrikan to incorporated the deities, and the latter, would mirror Afrikan rites of passage. Thus, like in the case of Haiti where saints could become vodusi, carnival come become Afrikan new years festivals, royal installation celebrations, or any rituals that could express the offering of the entire society as a sacrificial victim. This is the true origins of carnival: the ancient Afrikan source, and the recent Afrikan sources.
Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr., was born today in 1887, in St Ann's Bay, Jamaica, W.I. He rose to becomes a political leader, publisher, journalist, entrepreneur, and orator who was a staunch proponent of Black Nationalism and Pan-Afrikanism. He founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) to actualize a vision of, in addition to the Black Star Line Shipping Company, part of the Back-to-Africa movement, which promoted the return of the Afrikan diaspora to their ancestral lands.
Garvey was inspired by his Maroon heritage, and by other Afrikan thinkers, the likes of Prince Hall, Martin Delany, Edward Wilmot Blyden, Henry Highland Garnet, Bishop Henry McNeal Turner, Duse Muhammed Ali, Booker T. Washington, and Hubert Harrison. But Garvey was unique, in that he was able to established a global mass movement with economic empowerment program. Yes, Garvey had a program; the majority of the militant and radical black leadership were more talk than action. Even to this day, those folks have failed to build or organize Afrikan people. The UNIA would become the organization charged with Afrikan Redemption, and Garvey would eventually inspire others, ranging from the Nation of Islam to the Rastafari movement (which proclaims Garvey as a prophet).
The intent of the movement was for those of Afrikan ancestry to "redeem" Afrika and for the European colonial powers to leave it. His essential ideas about Afrika were stated in an editorial in the Negro World entitled "African Fundamentalism", where he wrote: "Our union must know no clime, boundary, or nationality… to let us hold together under all climes and in every country…"
A Celebration of Freedom
If you think that Juneteenth is not a real holiday, then you should think again. A holiday is a recognized celebration. It does not have to be sanctioned by the government. However, though Juneteenth is not a recognized national holiday, it is a state holiday recognized in 42 of the 50 states. In Texas, Juneteenth has been an official state holiday since 1980--it is considered a "partial staffing" holiday. The origin of Juneteenth lies in the commemoration of the announcement of the abolition of slavery. While there are now Juneteenth celebrations nationwide, the event originated in Texas and has been celebrated in Houston since the 1860′s. It commemorates a Union officer’s official announcement – in Galveston, on June 19 (in fact, Juneteenth is a portmanteau of June and nineteenth), 1865 – that the Civil War was over and all slaves were free. The declaration was made two months after the war ended, and two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. There were approximately 250,000 slaves in Texas at the time. Former slaves in Galveston rejoiced in the streets with jubilant celebrations. Juneteenth celebrations began in Texas the following year.
During the US Civil War, a number of proclamations, and general orders freeing enslaved Afrikans were issued. Some Afrikans were emancipated as early as 1861 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. Other enslaved folks emancipated by escaping during the excitement and disruption of war. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation liberated all blacks residing in territory captured from the Confederates after January 1, 1863. Though this act did not end slavery, it was a signal to many Afrikans that if they ran away, the Union forces would protect them. However, for the majority of Afrikan Americans, freedom came only in 1865 when Confederate commander Robert E. Lee surrendered his army to Federal forces at Appomattox Court House in Virginia effectively ending the war. News of Lee's surrender spread quickly through the former slave states east of the Mississippi River but state west of the Mississippi received the news later. Hence, though the war and slavery had potentially ended, many of the enslaved west of the Mississippi remained enslaved. Texas was such a place--it had remained isolated from both Union and Confederate forces during the war. In fact it had become a place of refuge for slaveholders seeking to insure that their "property" would not hear of freedom. So in Texas, the pro-slavery forces manage to keep the new of Afrikan freedom from their enslaved population until June 19, 1865, when Federal troops landed at Galveston, Texas and issued General Order No. 3. Word of emancipation gradually spread over the state.
General Order No. 3
When the news came, Afrikans immediately abandoned their plantations. Many whom had been brought from surrounding states, returned to those lands in an effort to reunite with loved ones. Although news of emancipation came at different times during that Texas summer of 1865, June 19th began the day the Afrikan population gradually settled as their day of celebration. As early 1866 they held parades, picnics, barbecues, and gave speeches in remembrance of their liberation.
By the 1900s these celebrations and 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 in Houston and Dallas. In Texas in particular, for Afrikan Americans Juneteenth was "the holiday." The Fourth of July paled in comparison.
As the Afrikan population of Texas spread to other western states, they carried the celebration with them and before long Juneteenth was celebrated in Los Angeles, Oakland, Portland, Seattle, and San Diego. The celebration began to spread to communities east of Texas such as Washington, D.C., and Birmingham, Alabama as well.
Economic and cultural forces caused a decline in Juneteenth celebrations beginning in the early 20th century, particularly the Depression.* But by time of the Black Power movement and in many ways because of it, many Afrikan Americans began to revive the celebration. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s Juneteenth has continued to enjoy a growing interest from communities and organizations throughout the country. And you folks in the eight states that don't celebrate it, "What's up?" By the way those states are: Arizona, Hawaii, Maryland, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Utah.
*As many Afrikan Americans began to integrate into or identify more with the larger white society, they began to shun Juneteenth and tend to identify and celebrate the national holiday, the Fourth of July. They forgot all about what Frederick Douglass taught them. Click link http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/douglassjuly4.html, if you need reminding (and have time to read it).