In honor of Juneteenth (June 19), the Santa Ana Public Library is proud to present an informational video on Juneteenth and its significance to the African-American community in Santa Ana. The Orange County Heritage Council and the OC Learning Black History project produced this video. It features Barbara Junious who is the founder of OC Learning Black History and Beatrice (Bee) Jones who is a Historian with the program. Barbara Junious and Beatrice (Bee) Jones are both teachers with OC Learning Black History, teaching all ages in classes on Black History. This video was recorded by Mr. Dwayne Shipp, President of Orange County Heritage Council (http://oc-hc.org/). The motto of Orange County Heritage Council is “The Legacy Never Ends... New Vines Grow From Strong Roots.”
What is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth is the oldest known annual observance commemorating the abolishment of slavery in the United States of America. The Juneteenth Independence celebration dates back to June 19, 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger led Union soldiers into Galveston, Texas. It was there that Union soldiers delivered news that the Civil War had ended and enslaved African Americans within any state were free.
Two years prior to Juneteenth Independence, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, declaring “that all persons held as slaves” within Confederate states be freed. However, the Proclamation's measure had little impact on states in rebellion as there were few Union troops there to enforce President Lincoln's Executive Order. The arrival of Major Granger and his regiment influenced Confederate opposition.
The response of the news and change amongst the former enslaved may have ranged from hesitation to immediate departure from the South to the North. Since, Black people have experienced challenges and small victories in establishing themselves as citizens of the United States.
Juneteenth became a celebration of freedom, achievement, gathering family and communities, with food and entertainment, spiritual-religious ceremonies, cultural storytelling, and pilgrimages to Galveston, Texas. Today, Juneteenth takes on a symbol of pride in African American experiences and ancestral roots.
History of the Civil War
Shortly after Abraham Lincoln was elected president, southern states began seceding form the Union (or the United States of America). Jefferson Davis became the president of these states in succession: Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. The Southern states, also known at the Confederate States of America, formed the Confederate Army, who were in opposition to President Lincoln's plan to contain slavery and states' rights in the United States.
The Confederate Army's attack on Fort Sumter prompted the Union to establish an army comprised of soldiers from twenty states. The long-standing American Civil War began in 1861, men and women of all ethnic groups participated, until the Union Army secured victory in 1865.
During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation which would federally legalize the rights of enslaved African Americans in the Confederate States specifically; this measure did not include states that were not in rebellion with the Union. Under the Proclamation, slavery was not essentially outlawed, ex-slaves were not granted citizenship, and slave owners were not compensated for their loss of chattel (slaves as property).
The Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation goals were to maintain the Union and an effort to abolish slavery. In 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment passed by two-thirds vote, and ratified to ensure the abolition of slavery; however, in the years to come, this had its drawbacks in regards to the Civil Rights of African Americans and Jim Crow.
*Thirteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary slavery, except as punishment for committed crimes (i.e. prison and prison labor).
The Santa Ana Public Library is humbled to share Juneteenth oral histories courtesy of the Library of Congress. The following excerpts derive from various interviews held in the early 1940s, anthologized in the Library of Congress collection “Voices Remembering Slavery: Freed People Tell Their Stories”.
Interview with Uncle Billy McCrea, Jasper, Texas, 1940
Recorded in 1940, former slave Billy McCrea remembers the social conditions and punishments he observed as a “big boy” (approximately 13) living during the time of slavery. He also recalls receiving news of his freedom alongside his mother.
Interview with Aunt Harriet Smith, Hempstead, Texas, 1941 (part 2 of 4)
Harriet Smith speaks of her of witnessing “the break up” of slavery at 13 years of age. She describes herself and other slave youths sitting atop fences watching soldiers and their horses march south on their way to San Antonio. She recalls one of her friends, an orphaned and injured slave girl from another household, willingly depart behind the soldiers, never to be seen again. She also recounts her family’s decision to stay and continue working and living on the plantation until they bought a home and formed “colored” colony several years later.
Interview with Laura Smalley, Hempstead, Texas, 1941 (part 1 of 5 & 4 of 5)
Former slave Laura Smalley recalls the hardship slave children lived during slavery and remembers her own reception to the news that slavery had ended. Though she does not remember the Civil War she recalls her master returning from war and withholding the news from the slaves in the plantation for another six months. She also recalls the uncertainty and hopelessness in not having anywhere to go that prevented former slaves from leaving the plantation. In another segment of the interview (part 4 of 5) she recalls being provided with an abundant meal marking her freedom, but not understanding its significance.