This winsome visage was stumping for votes in my email last Friday, modern communication technology sparing her the rigor and possible embarrassment of bounding to the top of an actual stump. Back in the day, bounding to the top of an actual stump was the technology whereby a democratic politician would make himself both audible and visible in a crowd; but the podium of pioneers is now only a metaphor, replaced by the e-mail blast.
You see that this politician chose to make herself only partly visible to the virtual crowd. I cannot say whether the mask is meant to make her look like a surgeon, a ninja, a bandit, or a sloe-eyed houri of the Mohammedan paradise, but suspect it is the first of these. The burden of her stump speech is that America is gravely ill, but that she is a member of the medial team who will put things right.
Juneteenth was the occasion and theme of this particular (and virtual) stump speech. Although this Texan holiday has received considerable publicity this year, it may be necessary to tell outsiders that Juneteenth, which takes place on June 19th, is the day on which Black Texans commemorate their emancipation, and on which many Politician Texans bound to the top of metaphorical stumps and declare themselves allies of the angels.
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On June 19, 1865, Union troops landed in Galveston, Texas, a port from which they had been forcibly ejected two and a half years earlier. That was on January 1, 1863, which as it happens was also the day Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Upon returning to Galveston, one of the first acts of the Union General (name of Granger) was to inform the people of Texas that the slaves were now free. I have often heard it said that General Granger read the Emancipation Proclamation aloud, but it appears from the Galveston newspaper of June 20, 1865, that Texans were actually informed by way of a general order from their new military governor.*
“The people of Texas are informed in accordance with a proclamation from Executive of the United States ‘all slaves are free.’ This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quiet at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts, and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
Texans farther inland received this general order some time later. Although there very likely was a certain amount of private celebration among former slaves, the first official celebration did not occur until the following year. Here is how the 1866 celebration was reported in a Houston newspaper.
“The celebration of the anniversary of their freedom by the Blacks takes place today. There will be a grand barbecue. We earnestly trust that nothing will be done by the inconsiderate or ill-disposed to interrupt the merry-making of the freedmen”**
That same year the San Antonio Herald reported:
“The recent picnic, which was held by the freedmen . . . was quite a grand affair . . . . Several hundred blacks were present on the occasion, besides a number of officers and soldiers of the army . . . . A good deal of dancing was done by the freedmen, and a good deal of ‘lager’ was drank by the whole gathering. Some speeches were made by an officer of the [Freedmans’] Bureau and by some of the Negroes.”***
Juneteenth was, in other words, the Black’s Fourth of July, and like the national celebration combined feasting and festivity with speeches of a more or less political nature. Here is a description of the Juneteenth celebration in Bryan, Texas, the town where I reside, in 1869. It was printed as a letter to the Houston Union, a Republican newspaper printed in Houston.
“Yesterday was a gala day for the freedmen of Brazos and surrounding counties. At an early hour they began to pour in from all the byways in platoons of hundreds, and by noon it was generally conceded that there were over 5,000 persons present. Although many predicted riots and disorderly conduct, there was naught to mar the joyousness of the occasion—they all seemed to be imbued with an idea of the great responsibility thus suddenly forced upon them, and in the language of one of the speakers. ‘they came to celebrate with honest hearts and pure purpose the anniversary of their liberation, to pay that homage due to the generous Government that had made them free—to baptize their souls afresh with the spirit of the great Declaration of ’76.’”
As I just said, the Houston Union was a Republican newspaper. Indeed, it primarily functioned to promote Governor Edmund Davis and his program of radical reconstruction. It first appeared in 1869, when Davis was running for office, and then disappeared in 1874, after Davis and his “Radicals” were turned out. As I explained in my recent post on Matthew Gaines, soon to be commemorated with a statue on the Texas A&M campus, the Davis administration depended on bloc voting by the recently emancipated slaves (hence the name ‘Black Republicans’), and therefore almost certainly used Juneteenth to organize this vital constituency.
When the Democrat party organized white Texans to remove Davis and the Radicals, and to cripple the Black voting bloc, the emphasis of Juneteenth appears to have returned to feasting and festivity. This was the case in Houston in 1875.
“Strangely enough, the freedmen of Houston began the celebration of the annual June fete by the familiar and enlivening strains of Dixie, from the colored band of this city, who . . . rode through the principle streets . . . During the day numerous wagons and teams, even from the far-off Brazos, arrived in the city, and having hitched under convenient shade trees, the occupants of the vehicles betook themselves to the celebration of ‘freedom.’”†
Interestingly, class divisions appeared almost immediately among Black Texans, and with them segregation of the patricians and plebeians in the Juneteenth celebration. Here is an item on the celebration in Galveston in 1875. (The title “codfish aristocracy” was in those days given to snobbish parvenus, black and white.)
“The freedmen of the city are making preparations for the celebration of the 19th. Another day has been added to the two of the festival already existing. The first day the elite of the colored people of this city are to be out; upon the second there is to be a flag presentation, and upon the third the colored shoddies and codfish aristocracy are to enjoy themselves.”†††
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For over one hundred and fifty years, Juneteenth has been an occasion for Texas Blacks to gather for feasting and festivity, and from my admittedly limited research, it appears that most white Texans hoped they would have a good time. But as I said, Juneteenth has also from time to time been an opportunity for Politician Texans to bound to the top of stumps, whether real or metaphorical, and declare themselves allies of the angels.
In 1869 the stump-bounding politicians were Radical Republicans, black and white. Today it is the likes of the masked woman who appeared in my mailbox last Friday to speak about “155 years of promises broken” and “a day to reflect on how far we still have to go.”
Whether or not she knows it, this woman is a radical (albeit a radical Democrat), since she tells us that she will not simply govern if sent to Austin, but that she will instead work to “make some long overdue changes to our system of government.” The proper name for a change in the “system of government” is, of course a revolution (or perhaps reconstruction). Identifying herself with the revolutionary organization called Black Lives Matters, the masked woman on the metaphorical stump declares:
“We demand transformative change. I’m running for the State Legislature to help bring about that change.”
You cannot say that she did not warn you.
*) Flake’s Tri-Weekly Bulletin (June 20, 1865), p. 2. It was the third of five general orders. In the first order Granger took command of all troops in Texas. In the second he announced the staff of the new military government. In the third he informed the slaves that they were free. In the fourth he abolished Confederate legislation, required Confederate soldiers to surrender arms and pledge loyalty to the United States, and declared ongoing war against “banditti, guerillas, jayhawkers, horse thieves, etc.” In the fifth he took control of cotton shipments for purposes of twenty-five percent taxation.
**) Tri-Weekly Telegraph [Houston] (June 20, 1866).
***) The item from the Herald was reproduced in The Southern Intelligencer (June 21, 1866), p. 1.
†) “Letter from Bryan: Emancipation Day in Bryan—5000 People Present—Great Enthusiasm for Gen. Davis,” Houston Union (June 28, 1869), p. 1.
††) Galveston Daily News (June 18, 1875), p. 4.
†††) Galveston Daily News (June 15, 1875)