Speaking & Teaching

Jun. 19, 2019

Why do the black communities in this nation celebrate June 19, 1865, yet ignore the date January 16, 1865? One day became a holiday of some magnitude especially in the state of Texas, Juneteenth. While the other date, January 16, 1865, became a day of little or no recognition. One date involved the issuance of an important Field Order that came one of the Union Army's second-leading commander, General William T. Sherman who famously lead a military maneuver that effectively destroyed the armed forces of the Confederate States of America from Georgia to the coastline of South Carolina. While the other General Order was issued by a non-descript Major General George Granger, who was charged with the leadership of maintaining order and control in the state of Texas. I ask this question today on June 19, 2019, as many of my black brothers and sisters are engaged in the Juneteenth celebrations. Why don't we celebrate on January 16, 1865, isn't that the day of more historically importance?

Why, Juneteenth? I mean celebrating a date when in actuality enslaved Texans had been freed for 2 1/2 years by Presidential decree of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Or, shouldn't we have celebrated the date January 16, 1865, because that is the date when freed black American were supposedly given 40 acres and a government mule by Field Order #15. I mean if our ancestors had started that celebration date it may have forced the new Union of the United States to honor the promise of the land and the mule. What exactly did General Order #3 provide black Americans on June 19, 1865? Freedom, not really, just because the Confederate State of Texas didn't recognize the Emancipation Proclamation didn't mean it was inconsequential. In addition on January 13, 1865, Congress and the President mandated that every former slave was henceforth and forever free with the passage of the 13th Amendment. In actuality, Texas didn't formally ratify the 13th Amendment until February 18, 1870, which was almost 5 years after Juneteenth. So what exactly are we as Black Americans on June 19? It surely isn't the end of slavery because we know that slavery extended far beyond June 19, 1865. It may not have been the legalized institution that was the law of the land prior to the end of the Civil War but it surely was for all intent and purposes slavery.

If we are celebrating an actual Juneteenth, which referred to the end of institutional legalized slavery in this nation. The date should be referred to as Decemberteenth, reflecting December 6, 1865, the day that the 13th Amendment was ratified. It was that date in which the 13th Amendment became a part of the United States Constitution. I don't see any national celebrations in black communities on that date. I sorta wish that our black ancestors had made a huge deal out of January 16, 1865. I sorta, kinda wish that our ancestors in South Carolina and Georgia would've had some major parties celebrating Field Order #15. You know banners and all reflecting 40 acres and a government mule. May have even caused Andrew Johnson to reconsider recalling those orders. He might've even rethought his position of giving our deserved lands back to the former Confederate rebel plantation owners. Even if he didn't reconsider every year having a Januaryteenth celebration for our 40 acres and a mule would've put reparations front and center. I am damn sure that the state of Texas wouldn't have made that day a state holiday. You ask yourself this, what did the state of Texas lose, economically in making Juneteenth a state holiday? What Texas land was given to freed enslaved peoples as reparations for the ills and injury of slavery?

I don't have any problem with reasons for a party. What is the saying now in our black communities, "party with a purpose"? Well, I would've loved our ancestors to have partied with a purpose on Januaryteenth, January 16, 1865, and every year that followed. Reparations would've have been front and center every year since, 154 years and counting.

Jun. 18, 2019

Tomorrow is JUNETEENTH. What exactly is Juneteenth? How significant is that date in the reality of black emancipation? Does Juneteenth really have an important place in the lives of Black Americans today? Well, let's first look historically at the date in question June 19, 1865. Why is this date so important? First, consider this on January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation was legally binding by Executive Order of President Abraham Lincoln. The Emancipation Proclamation freed all enslaved Americans of African Descent held in bondage in all the Confederate States. It didn't free any enslaved Americans of African Descent held in bondage in any Confederate territory held by Union forces prior to December 31, 1862, nor did it free any Americans of African Descent in the so-called border states still loyal to the Union.

Since Texas was indeed at the time a state loyal to the Confederacy. Every former slave was henceforth and forever free. Well, the news of the Emancipation Proclamation didn't exactly move through the Confederacy at breakneck speed. As a matter of fact, it seems that Texas's enslaved population never received word of the historic document. Even two years later in the Spring of 1865, Robert E. Lee's surrender which ended the Civil War. Texas's enslaved population didn't know that they had achieved actual emancipation. On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger landed in Galveston, Texas on that date. It was only then that the enslaved populations of Texas begin to be notified of the emancipation status. Granger issued General Order Number 3 thus freeing all 250,000 slaves in Texas. This was the actual historic beginning date of the annual celebration now known as Juneteenth, June + 19.

Did every one of those quarter of million former slaves automatically become free? No, because it was up to the former slave owners to notify them of their emancipation status. I'm certain that Major General Granger surely didn't realize he was responsible for the celebration known as Juneteenth. Because he understood slavery in Texas actually ended on January 1, 1863. Yet to those former enslaved Texans, Juneteenth became a historic date. It became a recognized holiday in the state of Texas, a day of celebrations and parties. However, in reality, June 19, 1865, meant little because within a little more than a decade all forms of emancipation and civil liberties were eliminated from the lives of Americans of African Descent. Many of our ancestors even fell into situations far worse than those conditions that existed on June 18, 1865.

If we are to celebrate Juneteenth in our black communities. Then maybe we as a community should be celebrating July 2, 1964. First, the United States Senates passed the Civil Rights Bill of 1964, on June 19, 1964, by a vote of 73-27. This bill provided absolute citizenship rights that had been denied Black Americans for nearly a century. It was the legislation that had been demanded by our ancestors who battled forces of segregation, violence, and prejudice during the civil rights struggle. The final bill was signed by President Johnson during a public display of racial unity, on July 2, 1964, just a couple of hours after the Civil Rights Bill passed the House of Representative by a vote of 290-130. Of course, even the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 didn't immediately solve the struggle for Black Americans equality. In some cases that struggle is still ongoing 54 years after final passage and Johnson's presidential signature, and the pomp and circumstances of the signing event.

So, in reality, Juneteenth is a date without any true historical relevance other than an opportunity to have a party. Why do we continue to celebrate or mention a date that indicates the news traveled slowly in a white-controlled Confederacy? Why do we celebrate a date that actually didn't mean equality or freedom for Americans of African Descent? Even many former slaves in Texas weren't freed on June 19, 1865, because it was up to the white plantation owners to inform them of General Order #3. So, today just a little history related to a date mired in confusion, Juneteenth, what does it really mean? Didn't the 13th Amendment that was ratified by the state's and amended the US Constitution on December 6, 1865.

Jun. 17, 2019

Shortly afterward his brother, John Rosemond Johnson and James Weldon Johnson moved away from Jacksonville to New York, and the song passed out of our minds. However, not in the minds of those school children of Jacksonville. They kept on singing Lift E'vry Voice and Sing. During that time period,​ 95% of Black Americans lived south of the Mason Dixon Line. So the capture rate for the song's popularity was centered in the region Black Americans live. So they went off to other schools and sang it; they became teachers and taught it to other children. Within twenty years the song was being sung over the South and in some other parts of the country. Today the song, popularly known as the Negro National Hymn, is quite generally used. "The lines of this song repay me in an elation, almost of exquisite anguish, whenever I hear them sung by Negro children." James Weldon Johnson wrote this about his most famous creation. I'm sure that every time it is sung still today, Lift E'vry Voice and Sing lifts the eternal spirit of James and John, the original Johnson Brothers, who delivered greatness to our black communities with this song.​

Jun. 17, 2019

I turn to this afternoon to the accomplishments of in the life of Mr. James Weldon Johnson. James Weldon Johnson is in my eyes the 'father of black expressive pride". His poem, now song "Lift E'vry Voice and Sing" capsulizes the strength and determination of a black nation of overcomers. In those words written in 1900, James Weldon Johnson drew a picture that became a source of pride for each and every black American. So today as I continue to celebrate the 148th Birthday of James Weldon Johnson. I catalog his life's accomplishments. His varied experiences show the true greatness the embodied this wonderful man. Since James Weldon Johnson was born in Virginia and my family roots are centered with the Johnson strand in Virginia. I'm going to take the position that James Weldon Johnson was my past cousin. So in me flows the strength of James Weldon Johnson. I love the man and we as a group of Black Americans are forever in his debt.

Jun. 17, 2019

Most Black Americans know that James Weldon Johnson ​was the songwriter and poet who along with his brother, John Rosamond Johnson, created the Black National Anthem, Lift E'vry Voice and Song. The poem was created while Johnson was residing in his hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. His talent with prose was exceptional but James Weldon Johnson also had a unique ability to organize and build. It was those skills that endeared James Weldon Johnson to black history.

Many black people know the song but don't know the creator of that epic song, Lift E'vry Voice and Sing. They also don’t know this pertinent fact, the very first Black Executive Secretary of the NAACP was James Weldon Johnson. Johnson was personally recruited to work at the NAACP by WEB Dubois. Dubois taught Mr. Johnson while he was a professor at Atlanta University. James Weldon Johnson was a magnificent creator and wordsmith who easily could have been very successful in his private life by simply doing what he did best create magic with words and music.

Yet, Mr. Johnson’s call to greatness would not end with his creative energies to produce impressive poems and songs. You see James Weldon Johnson sought something bigger, something more impactful, he sought the total citizenship rights of people of color in the United States. He was a true patriot and believed that the words written in this country’s Constitution applied to all men and women no matter their creed or color. In 1916 James Weldon Johnson joined the NAACP as a Field Secretary at the behest of WEB Dubois. Eventually, he was asked to become the first Black Executive Secretary of this fledgling organization in 1920. James Weldon Johnson had an enormous amount of inner personal desire, with that source of power James Weldon Johnson took on the mission of building the NAACP.

It was to become under his leadership the ultimate voice for black civil, judicial, and social rights in this nation. Under Johnson's stewardship, the NAACP scoured the nation uncovering acts of violence being perpetrated on blacks. Johnson placed an emphasis on stamping out the lynchings and white mob violence that afflicted our black ancestors. I could write so much more about James Weldon Johnson, more than I could put on any page or post. So, I decided this morning read one of his greatest creation on In His Words, My Voice, The Creation, as I pay homage to this great ancestor of mine. He lived a full life of 67 years but still, he left before he could see full citizenship rights applied to black citizens in this country. We are still struggling for those rights. We are now concentrating on the economic, educational and judicial rights of equality in this country. Until we secure those rights, James Weldon Johnson spirit cannot rest in peace. Happy Birthday Ancestor Johnson. ​