Black History We Didn’t Learn In School Part 2!

Keeping with last week’s theme we decided to continue to educate ourselves on Black History – because our knowledge is sorely lacking. 

This week on the podcast we shared information about Juneteenth (Brenton’s share) and Claudette Colvin (Emily’s share). 

The link is below if you want to listen to the podcast.

Let’s jump in! 

Juneteenth – June 19, 1865

Also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, and Cel-Liberation Day. It is the oldest national commemoration of the end of slavery in the US. This marks the day when the final slaves in the confederacy were freed. This comes two and a half years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation (September 22, 1862), which was the executive order that made all confederate slaves free. It officially took effect on January 1, 1863, but was hard to enforce in confederate states since they were not governed by Union laws. Only when General Lee surrendered in April 9, 1865, did it fully take effect.

Texas was the last confederate state to receive news of the Proclamation. There are no concrete reasons why it took so long, but there a couple of theories:

  • The messenger was murdered on their way to Texas
  • News was deliberately withheld by enslavers to maintain the labor force.
  • Federal troops waited for slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest.

Either way, Texas was never one for following the rules.

Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865. He announced news that the war had ended and that slaves were now free. This date is celebrated as the end of slavery, but that wouldn’t come until the ratification of the 13th Amendment on December 6, 1865. Many border states during the Civil War (including Kentucky, Maryland, Tennessee) were not part of the confederacy so the Proclamation didn’t come into effect. Once freed, Black citizens spread across Texas and neighboring states to establish a new life as independent people.

The celebration of June 19 became known as “Juneteenth.” Celebrations were meant as a time for reassuring one another and gathering together community members. Activities included rodeos, fishing, barbecuing, and baseball. Dress was very important as old laws had governed what slaves could wear. Therefore celebrations included casting off old clothes into rivers and wearing clothing that belonged to old slavers. There was and continues to be a focus on self improvement and education. Celebrations usually took place in rural areas and in churches as there was often pushback and protest from the white community. Eventually, Black land owners were able to donate land specifically for celebrating.

Celebrations declined along with the economy in the early 1900’s. National textbooks provided less detail on former slaves & slave practices. They intentionally left out Juneteenth and focused on Lincoln’s Proclamation as the end of slavery. Juneteenth began to recirculate during the Civil Rights movement, as protestors wore pins to tie their current struggle with their ancestors. Senator Al Edwards was able to make it an official state holiday in Texas on January 1, 1980. It is the first emancipation celebration that had state recognition. Today there are many Juneteenth organizations promoting the holiday and Black historical knowledge. There has been a large push to make it a national holiday (you can sign the petition as well). It is recognized in 46 states; the only stragglers are Hawaii, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Claudette Colvin 

I remember learning about Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus system but no one shared 15 year old Claudette Colvin’s story with me until recently. 

Claudette Colvin was riding home from school on March 2, 1955 (nine months prior to Rosa Parks). She was asked by the bus driver to give up her seat and refused stating that she had paid her fare and had a right to keep her seat. She was eventually forcibly removed by police officers and taken to jail. 

Black History 

Claudette had been learning about Black History at school. The women she had been studying were Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman. As a class they had also discussed the current racism they were experiencing (ex: not being able to try on clothes in stores). 

Claudette was inspired by the women above and said that it felt like Sojourner Truth was holding her down on one side and Harriet Tubman on the other. She could not get up. 

Not Alone 

Claudette was not the only woman to refuse to give up her seat on the bus. Many women did it throughout the movement and were faced with fines. 

What makes Claudette unique is that she was one of four women represented in Browder v Gayle – the court case that successfully overturned the bus segregation laws in Montgomery. 

Why Did History Overlook Her? 

Colvin believes she was overlooked due to age and aesthetics. Rosa Parks was secretary of the NAACP and had a middle class look to her. Colvin was shunned by her community after the bus incident and ended up pregnant at a young age. The civic leaders at the time thought an adult would make a better representative for the movement than a minor. 

Youth Activism 

I think it’s important to note that the majority of the civil rights movement was young people at the time and 50% of them were women. 

You can learn more about Claudette and her book in the NPR article below.

Let us know if there are any moments you want us to focus on in the future – we still have so much to learn!

And if you want to check out last weeks post it can be found here!

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