“We was all walkin’ on golden clouds…Just like that, we was free.”

–FELIX HAYWOOD, former slave

Just when curiosity about a topic beckons, a friend comes along with a timely story. PEGGY SMITH, a member of the League of Women Voters of Thurston County, wrote a column for the League’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice Committee newsletter.

Peggy’s lived in the Puget Sound area most of her life, except when she pursued her education (BS in chemistry, PhD in Biochemistry) and a career in biochemistry out of state. A career change from the natural sciences to public service, after an MPA in Policy Development, facilitated her return to Washington. She enjoyed doing planning and research for state government until retirement. She has been a life-long advocate for human rights and social justice, mostly in the context of church and nonprofit organizations. Since retirement, she has been involved in such efforts with the League of Women Voters. She and my wife Amory have been friends since the seventies, and I am proud to call her my friend too. Here’s her column.

EARLY HISTORY

The first thing I knew about slavery is that President Lincoln had something to do with it. This resulted in a school holiday on February 12th each year, and I would be sure to bake and eat a Lincoln Log that day — just as I baked and ate cherry pie on February 22nd, a school holiday. By the time I made it through high school, I knew that Lincoln was president during the Civil War. I sort of understood that this war was a conflict that pitted human rights and economics. I was clearer on the fact that the war brought an end to slavery in the United States.

THE EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION

The way I understood things for many years after high school was that Lincoln freed the slaves by way of the Emancipation Proclamation. As a chemistry student, I did not need to know more. It took quite a while for me to realize it wasn’t as straight forward as that, as noted in this information I uploaded from The National Archives.

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, as the nation approached its third year of bloody civil war. The proclamation declared ‘that all persons held as slaves’ within the rebellious states ‘are, and henceforward shall be free.’

Despite this expansive wording the Emancipation Proclamation was limited in many ways. It applied only to states that had seceded from the United States, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal border states. It also expressly exempted parts of the Confederacy (the Southern secessionist states) that had already come under Northern control. Most important, the freedom it promised depended upon Union (United States) military victory.

JUNETEENTH

In the mid-1990s, I became friends with a woman named Janet. She had grown up in Texas, been in the Peace Corps, and we became good travel partners. One June, we were traveling overseas, and she said that she wanted to celebrate Juneteenth. I didn’t have a clue, but I’m always ready for a celebration. Here is basically what she told me.

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. In June 1865, Major General Gordon Granger of the Union Army landed in Texas and brought the news that the Civil War had ended, and all slaves were free. The news came as a shock to more than 250,000 slaves in Texas who were unaware of it. On June 19th, in the city of Galveston, Granger publicly read General Order No. 3, which stated: ‘The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.’ Granger was there to enforce this decree, which had originally gone into effect two years earlier.

Celebration of Juneteenth (aka Freedom Day, Emancipation Day, or Jubilee Day)

The first celebration in 1865 is recounted in Lone Star Pasts: Memory and History in Texas by Felix Hayood, a former slave. His description included the following:

We was all walkin’ on golden clouds […] Every body went wild […] We was free. Just like that, we was free.

Here are links to a few of the notices I have received about celebrations this year:

From the Northwest African American Museum

A selection of graphics representing Juneteenth Art

An informative overview of Juneteenth

Next year we will be able to enjoy an official holiday in recognition of Juneteenth which became a federal holiday on June 17th, 2021. I am open to suggestions about what I can bake and eat in honor of this day.

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P.S. FROM LINDA

Next year I hope Amory and I can celebrate Juneteenth with Peggy and honor Janet. Peggy says, “I can clearly say Janet is the only person to tell/talk to me about Juneteenth.”

I know I can come up with a menu. A Google search yields scads of recipes. I recommend 44 Recipes from Black Food Bloggers to Celebrate Juneteenth. Jerk BBQ Ribs, Sweet & Tangy Coleslaw, Brisket-Stuffed Sweet Potatoes…one can only say Yum, and those are only three of the choices.

Peggy with my daughter Deborah and her daughter Mason

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