Two months after Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865, effectively ending the Civil War, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger steamed into the port of Galveston, Tex. With 1,800 Union soldiers, including a contingent of United States Colored Troops. Granger was there to establish martial law over the westernmost state in the defeated Confederacy.
On June 19, two days after his arrival and 150 years ago today, Granger stood on the balcony of a building in downtown Galveston and read General Order No. 3 to the assembled crowd below.
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free,” he pronounced.
This was the first time many in the crowd had learned of the Emancipation Proclamation, which President Lincoln had issued two and a half years before.
White slaveholders had suppressed the news of the decree freeing the slaves in Confederate territory not under Union control.
“We all walked down the road singing and shouting to beat the band,” a Texas freedwoman recounted.
“Black men pitched their hats high in the muggy June air,” according to another report.
“Men and women screamed ‘We’s free! We’s free!’ ” Others left town, in what became known as “the scatter.”
The jubilation following Granger’s announcement in Galveston moved across Texas, quickly reaching the state’s 250,000 enslaved people.
A year later, a spontaneous holiday called Juneteenth — formed from the words June and nineteenth — began to be celebrated by the newly freed people of Galveston and other parts of Texas.
In 1867, Austin, the state capital, saw its first Juneteenth celebration under the direction of the Freedmen’s Bureau, the federal agency created to provide relief to people displaced by the Civil War.
Embraced as an exuberant day of jubilee, Juneteenth combined a history lesson and a political rally with the gospel hymns and sermons of a church service.
Barbecue was soon added to the mix — this being Texas — with strawberry-flavored red soda water to wash it down.
In time, rodeos, baseball games and family reunions all became part of Juneteenth tradition.
As former slaveholders attempted to maintain their control, this display of freedom was often met with violence.
Juneteenth revelers sought the relative safe haven of black churches — a poignant irony given the tragedy on Wednesday night in Charleston, S.C. Some of these churches began raising money to buy land on which to mark Juneteenth.
In Houston, two black congregations collected pennies and nickels until a 10-acre parcel was purchased for $800 in 1872 and named Emancipation Park, which is still used today.
The festival of freedom spread across the former Confederacy in the late 19th century.
And as African-Americans moved north, they carried this celebration of liberation with them.
As Isabel Wilkerson wrote in “The Warmth of Other Suns,” her prizewinning account of the Great Migration: “The people from Texas took Juneteenth Day to Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, and other places they went. Even now, with barbecues and red soda pop, they celebrate June 19, 1865.”
Granger’s order was momentous, but it was no magic bullet. Even with the ratification of the 13th Amendment in December 1865, the emancipated people of Texas, and the rest of America, confronted violent resistance as they attempted to claim the promise of their liberation. Any small gains came in the face of whips and guns, followed by the well-documented decades of Jim Crow laws and Klan terror.
Officially neglected, over time Juneteenth lost much of its resonance in the black community.
But it has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years. Spurred by a revival of pride in African-American traditions long denied or suppressed, Juneteenth has gained official recognition — although not necessarily full legal holiday status — in a number of states, starting, appropriately, with Texas, which made Juneteenth a paid holiday for state employees in 1980.
Still, 150 years after its birth, Juneteenth remains largely unacknowledged on America’s national calendar. Many Americans are unaware of its existence, or its roots. Sadly, that ignorance of Juneteenth reflects a deeper issue: the continued existence of two histories, black and white, separate and unequal.
Frederick Douglass voiced that fundamental divide in a memorable speech on July 4, 1852. “The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me,” he said. “This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine.”
Juneteenth is the flip side of the Independence Day coin. One hundred and fifty years after General Granger told the enslaved people of Texas they were free, Juneteenth is viewed by many of those who are aware of it as an “African-American holiday.”
That perception unfairly diminishes the fundamental significance of Juneteenth. The day should be recognized for what it is: a shared point of pride in the symbolic end of centuries of racial slavery — a crime against humanity and the great stain on America’s soul. As meaningful as Independence Day itself, Juneteenth completes the circle, reaffirming “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as the rights of all, not a select few.
wtf is the story about st. agatha and the tiddy plate? did she cut them off or something?
One of the common themes in the Catholic catalog of saints is the virgin saint- basically a young woman whose adherence to the church got her killed after she married a pagan (or was raped by a pagan, although they always tell the little kids they were married). Good ol’ Agatha of Sicily was one of these. Her veneration came about in the 3rd century; by the 6th century, she was firmly established in the canon of martyrs. Her entry in Legenda Aurea/The Golden Legend (a late 13th century manuscript about saints) says that she dedicated her virginity to God when she was fifteen. This would have been a Big Deal because Aggie was from a super rich, noble family. Enter Quintianus, a Roman prefect, who was neither super rich nor noble. However, he was a super asshole. He wanted to marry her (or just bang her, this is a 13th century book about something that may or may not have happened in the 3rd century and it doesn’t always distinguish), and she was all “No, I’m married to JESUS.” So he sends her off to a woman named Aphrodisia, who runs a brothel. (I mean, with a name like that… what exactly were her career options?)
So here’s the thing about Roman brothels: while the history of prostitution is complicated, by the 4th century many were actually state-owned. Prostitution was legal and licensed. How a fifteen-year-old noblewoman gets forced into prostitution is… odd, because while it was legal for owners to employ their slaves as prostitutes (slaves were considered property, after all), it was illegal to force a freedwoman or someone who had never been a slave into prostitution. Even if her father had married her off to Quintianus, he would not have been able to force her into prostitution. There’s absolutely no way that a noblewoman would end up the slave of a local prefect who was lower class and poorer than her- but again, a lot of these saint stories are really just gussied-up allegories. Catholicism’s weird. They’ve got saints that never existed (like St. Brigid, who is a concretion of various Irish myths and legends all mixed together into a saint) and I’ve talked about the officially not-a-saint St. Guinefort the literal dog here before.
But! Back to Agatha. Agatha’s at this brothel now, and she’s not having any of it. Quintianus sends for her and puts her in prison… for some reason, because again nothing she’s done is illegal. And then he decides to torture her, because why not. So he cuts off her breasts and says that she’s to be burned at the stake, but then an earthquake happens! Oh no! At this point, the story says that St. Peter shows up and heals her wounds (doesn’t put her breasts back tho) and she… uh, dies in jail. She’s the patron saint of a lot of people, including bell-makers, because of the shape of her breasts. In places where she is or was popular, there’s also a baked good called Agatha Buns (or minni di virgini if you’re in Sicily) that’s shaped like her breast, complete with a cherry on top for the nip nop.
Sulpiciae cineres lectricis cerne viator
quoi servile datum nomen erat Petale.
ter denos numero quattuor plus vixerat annos
natumque in terris Aglaon ediderat.
omnia naturae bona viderat; arte vigerat;
splendebat forma; creverat ingenio.
invida fors vita longinquom degere tempus
noluit hanc: fatis defuit ipse colus.
See the ashes of Sulpicia the reader, travellor,
who was given the slave-name Petale.
She had lived thirty years more than the number four
and on earth had given birth to a son, Aglaos.
She had seen all the good of nature; she had flourished in her art;
she glowed in beauty; she had grown in talent.
Evil chance did not want her to spend a long time
in life: the distaff itself failed the Fates.
AE 1928: 73.4, Anonymous. Believed by Stevenson (2005: 43-4) to be the work of the Augustan elegist Sulpicia Servi f., who may well have written the epitaph for a freedwoman of her own household. Translation by cavedraconem, 2017.
regarding your tag...... do you think the Naboo have our current sort of incest taboo, or nah? (you totally don't have to answer this publicly if it's too weird, I just really like discussions that diverge from the whole "let's only interpret Star Wars/science fiction with modern, western cultural mores")
I once wrote an entire paper on Roman and other classical Mediterranean incest laws, so this is def not too weird. (And I have enough academic background to actually say stuff about it.) And – and I apologize in advance, because historical incest laws and cultural attitudes towards incest is one of those things I find really interesting.
Also, hopefully it goes without saying that I am not talking about either the modern world or sexual abuse here?
…this got hella long so it’s under a cut. (And I talked for a bit about incest in the classical Med because I know you’re a classicist too, so hopefully that’s not too much of a distraction?)