Black History Fun Fact Friday – Juneteenth

I don’t celebrate holidays (this includes Kwanzaa and Juneteenth.) But it wouldn’t be right if we didn’t explore what this day is and what makes it so special for Black Americans; many replacing their 4th of July celebrations with Juneteenth instead. Despite my personal thoughts on it I respect the day as an important part of history to remember and I don’t believe we’ve ever covered it on this blog.


According to the Emancipation Proclamation issued by Abraham Lincoln January 1, 1863, the proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” By rebellious states it was referring to those states that had seceded or withdrawn from the United States, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal border states. It also exempted parts of the Confederacy (the Southern secessionist states) that had already come under Northern control. The freedom it promised also depended upon United States military victory. In brief, Emancipation only applied to those slaves who lived near Union lines.

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News of the supposed emancipation did not spread as quickly as the movies would have us to believe. Many slave-owners packed up their belongings and their slaves and moved to Texas in mass. “Since the capture of New Orleans in 1862, slave owners in Mississippi, Louisiana and other points east had been migrating to Texas to escape the Union Army’s reach.” (Henry Louis Gates Jr.) In a hurried re-enactment of the original Middle Passage, more than 150,000 slaves had made the trek west, according to historian Leon Litwack in his book Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of SlaveryAs one former slave he quotes recalled,”‘It looked like everybody in the world was going to Texas.’’ For the next two years, slave owners and the enslaved would live removed from the updates of the war and slavery would go on, business as usual.

And so, when General Gordon Granger entered Galveston, Texas, on June 19th to lead the Union occupation force, he had to deal with ongoing slavery in defiance of the Emancipation Proclamation. To fix this, he issued the following order:

“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 personal rights and rights of property, between former masters and slaves and the connection heretofore existing between them, becomes that between employer and hired labor. 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.”

This second proclamation, specifying that all slaves were free, is the foundation to the celebration of Juneteenth, a combining of June and the nineteenth when the order was issued. However, it is also important to know that just like the first proclamation, this order did not free all the enslaved.

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“There is much evidence to suggest that southern whites—especially Confederate parolees—perpetrated more acts of violence against newly freed bondspeople in Texas than in other states,” writes historian Elizabeth Hayes Turner in an essay titled “Juneteenth: Emancipation and Memory.” “Between the Neches and Sabine rivers and north to Henderson,” she continues, “reports showed that blacks continued in a form of slavery, intimidated by former Confederate soldiers still in uniform and bearing arms.” Murder, lynching, and harassment were common. “You could see lots of Negroes hanging from trees in Sabine bottom right after freedom,” reported one freed slave, “They would catch them swimming across Sabine River and shoot them.”

Still, Blacks celebrated their freedom with the first official Juneteenth event taking place in 1866 where they read the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 and praised Abraham Lincoln as the great liberator. (I find this odd but that’s another topic for another day). The celebrations continued until coming to a halt with the institution of Jim Crow, laws that essentially put Blacks back into a form of slavery where we were fully disenfranchised and outside of the law. Convict Leasing is a great example of this. After the Civil War and the end of slavery, Southern states, who had amassed great wealth from slavery, found their economy in shambles.

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They had to figure out how to keep a slave-like system going and like sharecropping, convict leasing was another answer. Black Codes and Pig Laws, unfairly penalized poor African Americans for crimes such as stealing a pig. It was also a crime to be unemployed. These laws could be imposed on Black men easily, sending them to jail and thus former slave owners turned “entrepreneurs” could lease them to various companies that would work them to death and treat them like they were slaves. This made the states tons of money. In 1883, about 10 percent of Alabama’s total revenue was derived from convict leasing. In 1898, nearly 73 percent of total revenue came from this same source. Death rates among leased convicts were approximately 10 times higher than the death rates of prisoners in non-lease states. In 1873, for example, 25 percent of all black leased convicts died.

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Texas Juneteenth Day Celebration, 1900 (Austin History Center, Austin Public Library)

Juneteenth didn’t make a full resurgence until The Civil Rights Movement when Blacks began to celebrate it in full again. And while many Blacks have celebrated it for centuries, it still did not become an official Holiday until it was made a Texas state holiday in 1980, and it wasn’t until 1997 that Congress recognized June 19th as “Juneteenth Independence Day,” after pressure from a collection of groups like the National Association of Juneteenth Lineage and National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation.


For more Black History Fun Facts, be sure to visit the BHFFF Page HERE.

Black History Fun Fact Friday – The Attica Massacre

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“ON SEPTEMBER 13, 1971, a four-day rebellion of over 1200 inmates at the Attica State Correctional Facility in bucolic upstate New York ended most horrifically after Governor Nelson Rockefeller ordered almost 600 state troopers to storm the prison. Even though the raid took only 10 minutes, when one could finally see through the haze of spent ammunition, it was immediately clear that the price of retaking this facility by force had been staggeringly high.” – Heather Thompson

Before we go on, let’s take it back…

Convict Leasing

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With nearly half of all cotton investments in human bodies now gone, the end of chattel slavery no doubt left a sour taste in the mouths of slave-owners. Over four million African Americans (because who would know exactly how many?) were poured into a society that did not want them, cotton economies in shambles, cotton gins destroyed, and wealth that deteriorated before the ink could dry on the Emancipation Proclamation. A system so interwoven into the fabric of America could not just be taken away without serious consequences. Slave-owners could not sit back and watch; a reconstruction of slavery was necessary.

The Reconstruction Era, the process of rebuilding the south (which was really the time of restoring slavery to the south), introduced a new set of laws that would ensure that Blacks remained the property of landowners, sharecropping on the same plantations that held them as slaves. All of this despite General William T. Sherman’s plan to grant freedmen 40 acres on the islands and the coastal region of Georgia. But after the Civil War, blacks never did receive their “40 Acres and a mule” and were instead ordered to either sign contracts with the owners or be evicted, driven out by army troops. In the summer of 1865, all land had been ordered by the government to be returned to its original owners. Thus, millions of blacks remained poor. Still, this was not the only form of servitude to which they were subjected. In addition, something more law abiding would hold them in captivity. Ironically, within the same paragraph that abolished slavery, slavery was also reconstituted. According to the 13th Amendment:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, nor any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

According to this law, slavery could not exist in the United States except for punishment for a crime, permitting slavery in the case of imprisonment.

New laws targeted blacks, (Black Codes) criminalizing their lives. That is, almost everything was a crime. Farm owner’s incapable of walking by the railroad or selling the products of their farm after dark. Or, the infamous Pig Laws, where stealing a pig (or any animal) could result in five years’ imprisonment. Or Sundown Towns, all white neighborhoods where Blacks were not allowed after dark. The more Blacks broke these laws and were sentenced to prison, the more slaves the plantation owners, now masked under private parties and corporations, had back into their possession. They could work the prisoners from sun up to sun down again while providing them with food, clothing, and shelter. Also known as Convict Leasing—the leasing of bodies to coal and iron companies owned by former slave owners—slavery was back. In 1883, about 10 percent of Alabama’s total revenue was derived from convict leasing. In 1898, nearly 73 percent of total revenue came from this same source.

Attica State Prison

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With awareness growing out of the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s, Malcolm X, The Black Panther Party, etc., Black and Latino Prisoners of 1970 began organizing rebellions against their treatment within the prison system. As with any information passed through the “grape vine” of the black community, the rebellions spread from prison to prison until it came to a head the Thursday morning of September 9, 1971. When the door prisoners used to go to the yard was locked, a fight broke out between the prisoners and the guards. As the fight grew, more prisoners joined until they broke open a gate connecting to another part of the institution and, to make a long story short, prisoners were let loose within the institution.

The Brothers locked the prison down, kicking butt and taking names. I mean (clears throat), taking staff members as hostages and implementing their own system of order within the prison. Appointing leaders to keep order and to be sure the staff was properly cared for, they demanded from the outside world better treatment within the prison system. Better medical treatment and less slave labor. But their “freedom” would not last long. When a hostage who was hit in the head at the beginning of the fight died from his injuries, the prisoners were responsible under the felony-murder rule. The felony was the riot and the murder was the death of the guard.

Inmates of Attica State Prison (right) negotiate with Commissioner Russell Oswald (lower left) inside the jail where prisoners took control
Inmates of Attica State Prison (right) negotiate with Commissioner Russell Oswald (lower left) inside the jail where prisoners took control

Shortly thereafter, a National Guard helicopter flew low over the yard and blew a cloud of military-grade CS gas into the crowd of men. As told to Attorney Jefferey Haas, under the name Big Black, one of the surviving prisoners of the time recalls:

“First came the tear gas. People looked for something to cover their face. When I first heard the shots, I thought they were blanks. Then the people around me in the yard starting dropping. I realized they were real bullets, and everyone ducked and ran for cover.” (September 16, 1971, Prisoner of The Attica Correctional Facility, New York, as told to Jeffrey Haas).

The gun shots Big Black is referring to are the marksmen who came in and started shooting, hitting 189 of the 1300 men in the yard and killing 31 people—29 prisoners and ten hostages. (There’s a conflict between the numbers. Some sources say 31 prisoners died and some 39. I use 31 because that is in accordance with the news articles of the time).

After the shooting, the beatings came:

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Source: Getty Images. Prisoners marching naked.

“The guards stripped us naked after the shooting. They made us crawl naked in the mud through a gauntlet where they beat us.” – Big Black

Next, Big Black (Big, dark skinned and part of the security) was tortured as an example. They burned his body with cigarettes:

“They took me out of the line. They made me lie on a table naked on my back and put a football under my chin. They put their burning cigarettes out on me. Some dropped them from the catwalk above and was laughing.”

“Afterwards, a news photographer found and recorded a pair of inscriptions, in separate hands, written with a white marker on a dark steel wall that succinctly told the story of the Attica rebellion. The top one said, “Attica fell 9-9-71 – F*&k you pig!” Just underneath that was written, “Retaken 9-13-71. 31 Dead Niggers.”

– Dennis Cummingham, Prison Legal News

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Riot: Prison guard hostages and inmates gather in the exercise yard of cell block D inside Attica State Prison in New York on September 9, 1971

While seeking freedom the men had forgotten one thing: slavery is abolished except as punishment for a crime. They were given slave-like treatment because as prisoners under the law, they were still slaves.

Today, the message is still relevant.

Black History Fun Fact Friday – Convict Leasing

 

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Welcome Back everyone to another episode of Black History Fun Fact Friday! Where we present movies, products, books, audio, or article Fun Facts on a portion of the History of African American people. We cover all things Archeological, Biblical, Historical, and most importantly, Factual. Today marks our 4th week into the series and we’d like to celebrate our month in with an excellent documentary on the history of convict leasing, but first, a little History:

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According to the 13th Amendment:
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude,

except as punishment for crime

whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, nor any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

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Convict leasing began in Alabama in 1846 and is recorded as lasting until July 1, 1928, however our past and present prison population speak a different language. Today, more than 60% of the people in prison are African American. For Black males in their thirties, 1 in every 10 is in prison or jail on any given day. Take a class filled with black boys and 1 in 3 has a likelihood of ending up in prison. It has gotten so bad that prisons now calculate the percentage of beds needed for cells based on whether or not black boys can read by the 4th grade.

Convict labor working on railroad line

In 1883, about 10 percent of Alabama’s total revenue was derived from convict leasing. In 1898, nearly 73 percent of total revenue came from this same source. Death rates among leased convicts were approximately 10 times higher than the death rates of prisoners in non-lease states. In 1873, for example, 25 percent of all black leased convicts died.

While most believe that the 13th Amendment abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, a loophole was opened that resulted in the widespread continuation of slavery in America–slavery as punishment for a crime.

Narrated by Lawrence Fishburne, learn from Historians and Scholars how the south reconstructed its means of financial stability after the end of the Civil War and the Emancipation of slaves:

Slavery by Another Name:

In Case You Missed It:

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