“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.