Selling Beer and Making Whoopee: A Note on Juneteenth

“The time has come in Dallas when the Juneteenth celebration has about gotten down to a contest over the question as to who will sell beer to the crowd.  Unless it rises above this dirty place it should be stopped, for the celebration is a farce, a veritable nuisance which should be abated.” 

Dallas Morning News (July 4, 1903)

I do not know who has the beer concession for our new Federal Juneteenth holiday; but I have no doubt the celebration will be well supplied with “beer.”  By “beer” I mean the gassy and intoxicating mumbo-jumbo of mystagogues, masochists and mountebanks, because the purpose of this new Federal holiday is to goose the market for their gassy and intoxicating brew.  Henceforth, so long as the star-spangled banner yet waves o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave, the Juneteenth holiday will provide these glib grifters with an annual pretext to flood the country with a double dose of their weepy jeremiads, thundering indictments, counterfeit histories, and grimacing oogly boogly.

As those long-departed editors of the Dallas Morning News went on to say:

“The colored race is far from free of ‘grafters.’  There have always been among the negroes some individuals who may be called ‘professional negroes,’ who get their living by their influence with their kind, because of their smooth tongues and by questionable methods.”

These “professional negroes” are now even more numerous, and the stiffness of their competition for market share is now intensified by many white “grafters” who also have mumbo jumbo to unload.  Hence the need to annually goose the mumbo jumbo market with a festival of fervid falsehoods and fatuities.

I do not know who first thought to call Emancipation Day “Juneteenth,” but the word “Juneteenth” did not appear in Texas newspapers until the 1890s, a full thirty years after the Union army landed on Galveston Island and announced that the slaves were free.  Some Texas Blacks began to celebrate Emancipation Day in the late 1860s, but they do not appear to have called their festivities “Juneteenth” until most of the emancipated slaves were dead.

Especially in the big cities like Dallas, Juneteenth was a day when beer (and “beer”) was sold to (and sucked up by) a large and thirsty Black crowd.  In Texas, Juneteenth was the big Saturday Night of the African-American year.  As the Dallas Morning News reported on June 21, 1915,

“Emancipation day celebrators continued to come into the Emergency Hospital yesterday.  The interns were a weary lot following the strenuous Saturday night.”

Fourteen years later, in 1929, the same newspaper reported:

“Whatever the serious import of the proclamation issued sixty-four years ago Wednesday in Galveston, which made the negroes of Texas ‘free American citizens,’ the day was [yesterday] remembered in Dallas as the occasion for ‘whoopee’ in the 1929 fashion.”

In the year 1929, Americans knew a thing or two about whoopee.

There were also, to be sure, solemn observances, stirring orations, and innocent frolics with family and friends, but the old Juneteenth was primarily an excuse to sell beer and make whoopee.  On our new, official, compulsory Juneteenth, I expect there will be more “beer” than beer, and I don’t expect we will all get an equal share of the whoopee.

7 thoughts on “Selling Beer and Making Whoopee: A Note on Juneteenth

  1. And no one in the House or Senate opposed it. From which fact we are entitled to say that it passed by coercion. And that is how all the new written and unwritten laws have been passed since the martyrdom of St. Fentanyl.

  2. It shows that the Republicans have lost the metapolitics. The metapolitics has determined that anyone who opposes establishment of a Federal Juneteenth holiday must also oppose Black people getting together for a Juneteenth parade and barbecue. I believe one of our senators (Republican) sponsored the bill to establish what will almost certainly become an annual pretext to denounce and defame the people who voted for that Republican senator. One can feel nothing but goodwill towards the people who paraded and barbecued yesterday (I wasn’t grumbling that they enjoyed excellent weather yesterday), and yet loath the elevation of this regional tradition into a propaganda festival. As you say, it is coercive. It is very bad when principled political dissent is impossible.

    • I am hopeful, however. Something has happened in the last eighteen months that we have not yet adequately noticed. The Big City is dead. And that is where the insanity originates. A more distributed nation will, I hope, be a saner nation. Big Universities will die off with the Big Cities. The pandemic fulfilled its pre-programmed near-term purpose, as implemented by Big City politicians and their raving mobs; but, as usual, they neglected to see the long-term consequences of their action.

      What do you think, JM?

  3. Just before the official pandemic began, a speaker in my department’s Friday colloquium made the old argument that all the world’s problems will end once humans are gathered in giant ant piles and move about on public transportation. I used to know the fellow personally, and he’s a communist. You know that something has to be wrong with tower blocks and busses by how much these people love them. I don’t suppose this fellow can feel chagrin, but I thought how chagrined he should be feeling a month or two later, when the unsanitary quality of urban living was on full display.

    The answer to your question will depend on the future of remote work, and particularly whether those who work remotely are perceived to have higher or lower status. If people perceive that one has to work in the central office to have any hope of promotion, people will eventually crowd back into the central office. Many people suppose that remote work will allow them to work from home beside a lake in the Rocky Mountains, but it actually means they must compete with rivals who will accept wages that allow them to live in a Bogota slum. My prediction is that the big cities will not be so big so far as population goes, but that they will gather even more power and wealth.

    The big universities are entirely dependent on the solvency of the Federal government. Take away student loan subsidies, student aid, and faculty grant support, and the big universities collapse in a semester. The middle class can barely afford to send their children to these behemoths as it is.

  4. I love passionately my particular Big City – it happens to be the biggest of the big – and I do not ascribe to it the fantastical properties that I read here. My Big City parish has more offerings of confession in a day than my former country mouse diocese offered in a month. And one way among many the South is defined is by its dearth of Roman Catholicism. City hate sounds like the minutes of a temperance committee. Everyone’s particular puritanical Final Solution is really really the right one I’m told.

    • It may be worth noting that all cities are not created equal. My time as as denizen of a big city convinced me that cities are best when one is either (1) rich, (2) young, (3) born there. A lot of American cities are just a bunch of strangers cutting each other off in traffic.

      • JMSmith,
        As always, a very good point. But I’ve found a special Beauty and soul and, yes, decency in the city that I will always rush to defend. By temperament I’m overly sensitive to those things I love, so there’s that. I do have a Southern drawl that would pass for Deliverance, so I know of what I speak when I relate the abyss of nihilism found on backroads and Beast cans. I’ll always be a country mouse, but I’ll never believe as I survey the decay of the West that the rot belongs to the City – though I’m sympathetic to those who believe that.

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