A Call for a National Juneteenth Commemorative Quilt
Juneteenth Parade, Houston, Texas, ca. 1914, by F.J. Schleuter
In this era of virtually instantaneous communications, when there are approximately 7 billion people on the planet and 5.1 billion of them own cell phones, it seems incredible that it took two-and-a-half years for news of the end of slavery to reach Texas, and yet that is what happened. Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, but slaves in Texas did not learn of it until June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers sailed into Galveston Bay and Major General Gordon Granger read a special order from President Lincoln:
The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer. The freedmen are advised to remain at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts, and they will not be supported in idleness, either there or elsewhere.
The Encyclopedia of Southern Culture lists several African American folktales that explain the delay, including that President Lincoln sent the news from Washington by a Union soldier who rode all the way on a slow-moving mule. Another version held that many slave owners in Texas were aware of the Emancipation Proclamation but refused to tell their slaves about it until the 1865 crops had been harvested.
Since 1865, June 19th—or Juneteenth, as it is commonly called—has been a day of celebration for many African Americans in Texas. The celebrations usually include speeches, parades, food, drink, music, all sorts of recreational activities, and often, a display of quilts. The tradition has spread and today Juneteenth is celebrated in other states and even some other countries. It is an official state holiday in many states and there is an organization dedicated to lobbying for declaring Juneteenth a national holiday. Reverend Ronald V. Myers Sr., M.D., of Belzoni, Mississippi, is chairman of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation. The group’s mission is “To bring all Americans together to celebrate our common bond of freedom through the recognition, observance, education and historic preservation of Juneteenth in America”.
2015 will mark the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth, and Reverend Myers would like to see the creation of an official Juneteenth commemorative quilt. He would also like to encourage groups and individuals to make Juneteenth commemorative quilts of their own. “Quilts are an important part of African American history,” said Rev. Myers. “It would be a great idea to have a National Juneteenth Quilt! I would like to see it travel around to different parts of the country and eventually be displayed in Washington, D.C.” You can contact Rev. Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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