Many Black substitute Juneteenth for July 4th celebrations
Some 75 years after The Declaration of Independence was signed on June 4, 1776, Abolitionist Frederick Douglass pointed out the irony of the words that were sealed while Blacks remained slaves until 1863
It’s not his holiday, Douglass said during a speech in Rochester, NY on July 5, 1852 to commemorate the signing of the July 4th document. The former slave turned statesman spoke to approximately 500 abolitionists who paid 12 cents each to hear Douglass as the keynote speaker during the Rochester Ladies Anti-Slavery Society gathering. At the end of his speech, Douglass remarks were endorsed by the group.
Juneteenth or Freedom Day
It was June 19, 1865, when the last enslaved African Americans were told they were free, more than a year (Jan. 1, 1863) after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed into federal law. More than 3 million enslaved persons were informed of the news in Texas and reports were that celebrations that were led by prayer, dancing, feasting and fasting.
Known as Juneteenth, many communities choose that day to celebrate freedom from slavery. In 1980, Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth a holiday and many states and local governments nationwide followed suit.
Historic Juneteenth celebrations in downtown Punta Gorda, Florida in 1910. Unknown source for photograph
In Punta Gorda, Florida, the traditional Juneteenth celebration actually takes place on May 20, 2021. This year, the quaint south Florida city did not hold a celebration due to the health pandemic, yet it captured various history clips through its museum and a rousing video that includes great information in other Florida communities.
There are hundreds of Juneteeth celebrations across the nation and outside of its borders. Here’s a brief listing of Juneteenth events in the U.S. during June 2021, beginning with celebrations in this blogger’s hometown, Omaha, Nebraska:
- Omaha Freedom Festival, Noon to midnight, Malcolm X Memorial Foundation, 3448 Evans St. Socially distanced outdoor event will feature activities and refreshments.
- Concert at 7 p.m. with rap artists Juvenile headlining, along with artists Michel’Le, Enjoli & Timeless, and Keeshea Pratt.
- Max capacity is 1,500 due to COVID. The Festival will follow safety protocols as recommended by the Douglas County Health Department, the CDC and the City of Omaha.
- The Omaha Freedom Festival Concert is brought to the community by Quality Clinical Research, The Blues Society of Omaha and Union Pacific.
In Springfield, Missouri:
In metropolitan Atlanta, Georgia:
In Huntsville, Alabama:
For more about Juneteenth celebtaions near and far, consult local newspapers, historical societies, libraries, museums, the federal government’s sites and locations such as the Park Service and National Archives.
There are ancestors who have called my name through the ethers of my dreams when I was a young girl growing up in Omaha, Nebraska. I heard the spirit of Bessie Coleman, and I imagined myself becoming the second African American woman to soar in the skies as she did. However, I was discouraged from that dream and a few more.
I found solace in writing. My retreat was to write in my daily journals. I was fortunate to learn of a poet whom I could identify with since she was African American, born in the Midwestern state next to mine (Kansas), and she wrote about a city that I adored — Chicago.
Pulitzer Prize-winning Poet Gwendolyn Brooks was born on this day — June 7 — in 1917. In 1950, she became the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize for her second book of poetry, Annie Allen, which chronicles the evolution of a young Black girl into womanhood in the community of Bronzeville on the near southside of Chicago, Illinois.
Pultizer Prize-winning book!
Bronzeville is an exciting book for a young person to read.
I eagerly sought biographies or any form of storytelling to learn of the everyday lives of Brooks and others who have passed onto their ancestral homes. Brooks’ life was changed at 6 months old when her family moved from Kansas to Chicago. She called the Windy City home until her transitition in December 2000.
There are so many highlights of her personal and professional life that the space in this blog is limited. Here are a few:
Honors and legacy
Sara S. Miller’s 1994 Bronze Portrait Bust Of Gwendolyn Brooks
1946, Guggenheim Fellow in Poetry
1946, American Academy of Arts & Letters Award
1950, Pulitzer Prize in Poetry
1968, appointed Poet Laureate of Illinois, a position she held until her death in 2000
1976, the Shelley Memorial Award of the Poetry Society of America
1985, selected as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, an honorary one-year position whose title was renamed the next year to Poet Laureate
1988, inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame
1989, recipient, Life Time Achievement Award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
1989, awarded the Robert Frost Medal for lifetime achievement by the Poetry Society of America
1992, awarded the Aiken Taylor Award by the Sewanee Review
1994, chosen as the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Jefferson Lecturer, one of the highest honors in American literature and the highest award in the humanities given by the federal government.
1994, Recipient of the National Book Foundations’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters
1995, presented with the National Medal of Arts
1995, honored as the first Woman of the Year chosen by the Harvard Black Men’s Forum
1995, received the Chicago History Museum “Making History Award” for Distinction in Literature
1997, awarded the Order of Lincoln award from The Lincoln Academy of Illinois, the highest honor granted by the State of Illinois
Brooks also received more than 75 honorary degrees from colleges and universities worldwide.
1970: “For Sadie and Maud” by Eleanor Holmes Norton, included in Sisterhood is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings From The Women’s Liberation Movement (1970), quotes all of Brooks’ poem “Sadie and Maud”
1970: Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center, Western Illinois University, Macomb, Illinois
1995: Gwendolyn Brooks Elementary School, Aurora, Illinois
1990: Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature and Creative Writing, Chicago State University
2001: Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy, Chicago, Illinois
2001: Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School, Harvey, Illinois
2002: Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School, Oak Park, Illinois
2003: Gwendolyn Brooks Illinois State Library, Springfield, Illinois
2002: 100 Greatest African Americans
2004 Gwendolyn Brooks Park named by the Chicago Park District, 4542 S. Greenwood Ave. Chicago IL 60653
2005: Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School, Bolingbrook, Illinois
2012: Honored on a United States’ postage stamp.
Negro Hero (1945)
The Mother (1945)
A Street in Bronzeville (1945)
The Children of the Poor (1949)
Annie Allen (1950)
Maud Martha (1953) (Fiction)
Bronzeville Boys and Girls (1956)
The Bean Eaters (1960)
Selected Poems (1963)
A Song in the Front Yard (1963)
We Real Cool (1966)
In the Mecca (1968)
Malcolm X (1968)
Family Pictures (1970)
Black Steel: Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali (1971)
The World of Gwendolyn Brooks (1971)
Report from Part One: An Autobiography (1972) (Prose)
A Capsule Course in Black Poetry Writing (1975) (Prose)
Other Music (1976)
Black Love (1981)
To Disembark (1981)
Primer for Blacks (1981) (Prose)
Young Poet’s Primer (1981) (Prose)
Very Young Poets (1983) (Prose)
The Near-Johannesburg Boy and Other Poems (1986)
Children Coming Home (1991)
Report From Part Two (1996)
In Montgomery (2000)
From a facebook post by our — Gwendolyn Brooks and me — Sorors, July 18, 2019
Triumphant ThursdaysThe Glamourous Gamma Zeta Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Incorporated will spotlight the life and accomplishments of Triumphant Soror Gwendolyn Brooks, American poet, author and teacher. She was the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize. Born in Topeka, Kansas in 1917, shortly after, her family moved to Chicago. Brooks began writing at a young age with the encouragement from her mother, who said she was “going to be the lady Paul Laurence Dunbar.” She published her first poem, “Eventide” at the age of 13. By age 16, she had written and published approximately 75 poems. In the 1950’s Brooks published her first and only novel. Her first teaching experience was at the University of Chicago.She was married to Henry Lowington Blakely, Jr. until his death in 1996. They had two children. At the age of 68, Brooks was the first African American women to be appointed poetry consultant to the Library of Congress. Triumphant Soror Gwendolyn Brooks died at her Chicago home on December 3, 2000.We thank you, Triumphant Soror Gwendolyn Brooks, for your many contributions to Zeta Phi Beta, Sorority Incorporated and the world.
St. Louis, Mo. TV Newsman Damon Arnold was fortunate to find fantastic info about his ancestor.
I am proud of Damon locating a mentally and physically strong former slave who became a Civil War vetetan. His fighting did not end there. Damon’s great-great-great grandfather also fought gallantly to receive his pension.
Read on and learn more. Damon is just at the tip of major findings. You, too, can find great family heirlooms in those old records.
When I was 10 or 11 years old, I camped in the Nebraska wilderness with my fellow campers and chaperones. The highlight of my experence was riding high atop my favorite horse along rugged and somewhat dangerous trails in the Black Hills National Park in South Dakota. I’ve since learned that my childhood suspicions were correct: The trails are so dangerous that it has long been fenced off to protect public use.
Like the fence around today’s Black Hills, the Buffalo Soldiers were the human hedge around our nation’s most precious national park lands.
Buffalo Soldiers protecting the nation’s most precious park lands. Courtesy, U.S. National Park Service.
I remember dreaming of becoming a park ranger. Perhaps my dreams were filtered from our African American ancestors who were among the nation’s and the world’s first park rangers in the early 1900s. Their origins as park rangers are traced to 1899, 1903 and 1904 in Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks.
Why were they called Buffalo Soliders?
Based on research, it is believed that Native Americans provided the nickname for African American soldiers based on the eyesight similarities of our ancestor soliders’ wooly hair and dark appearance to that of the buffaloes that roamed the parks. It is likely the soldiers were dubbed “Buffalo” beginning in 1866 with the 9th and 10th All-Black Calvary regiments.
Our family ancestors from Hope, Arkansas were members of the 9th Calvary of Buffalo Soliders based in New Orleans and formed in 1866. We are researching whether our lineage is traced to the 25th all-Black Infantry that also fought together against the Confederate Army.
Today’s Park Service looking for Black “Soldiers” to share African American history
Today’s Park Service is woefully underrepresented with African American park rangers and interpeters. In 2019 and earlier, the Park Service reports that 80 percent of its workforce are non-African American.
There’s a rich and storied history involving African Americans and magestic park lands in the United States. Col. Charles Young, the third Black graduate of West Point University was the first African American superintendent of a national park when he accepted the assignment at Sequoia National Park in the summer of 1903. Much of his work has gone unrecognized, yet Young is credited with the paved roads in the park, new bridges that are still in use today and the basic infrastructure of the trails.
The inscription by Col. Young reads: “Yours for Race and Country, Charles Young. 22 Feby., 1919.” Photo courtesy of Library of Congress
Under his leadership, he created an infrastructure of trails, paved roads, and bridges, some of which are still in use today. He also was friend of W.E.B. DuBois. The two met while teaching at Wilberforce University in Ohio, according to the researcher and writer Nineka M. Okona in her June 2020 article in Conde Nast Traveler.
She also interviewed a modern-day Park Ranger, Shelton Johnson, who was based on Yosemite. He has dedicated his work to preserving African American history and sharing it when he can. The post-COVID opening of the parks will allow Johnson and others to deliver the stories of the stewardship and pride that Black soliders had when they served as park rangers more than a century ago.
Seventeen National Parks bear African American History
From the Jameston to MLK National Parks, I am on a mission to visit and discover more about the rich history of African Americans.
Historic Jamestowne in Colonial National Historical Park – Photo credit: National Park Service / Paula Degen
Ebenezer Baptist Church, Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park – Photo credit: Library of Congress
For the full listing of the 17 sites with beautiful, historic African American connections, see https://www.travel-experience-live.com/african-american-history-national-parks/#:~:text=%2017%20National%20Park%20Service%20Sites%20That%20Commemorate,Monument%2C%20Illinois.%20Also%20known%20as%20the…%20More%20
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Happy Decoration Day now Memorial Day
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After a literal “hot-Lanta” visit to the Sugarcreek Golf & Tennis Center to cheer for our favorite high school tennis competitor, I thought of the similarities and contrasts of days gone by.
It is likely that 15-year-old Allie Turnbough did not understand the significance of her participation in a tennis tourney that highlighted historically black colleges and universities’ interest in her future. As a graduate of Clark Atlanta University, a HBCU that also includes her mother as an alumna, we especially sensed the significance of the day. Her Dad did as well. So did my Mom.
This day was made possible because of the Black tennis pioneers: “Formed in 1916 by a group of African American businessmen, college professors and physicians, the American Tennis Association (ATA) has become the Mecca for blacks – from all walks of life – who yearn to enjoy the camaraderie and competition offered by a sport for youngsters from age 8 to 80.
Since its inception, the ATA, which is the oldest African American sports organization in the United States…”https://blacktennishistory.com/the-american-tennis-association-ata/
The ATA is still in play. During a May weekend in the Atlanta suburban community known as South DeKalb County , the ATA produced a spectacular tournament at the beautiful Sugar Creek Golf & Tennis Club. It afforded teenagers like Turnbough the opportunity to compete with some of the best tennis athletes in the metro Atlanta area. HBCU tennis scouts had the best views.
As a genealogist, I reflect on this day and weekend as a pleasing legacy to Black female tennis pioneer Slowe. The difference is that unlike Slowe who was restricted to only competing in Blacks-only tourneys, Turnbough and her friends are able to prove their talents in fully integrated settings.
Many of us know of the great Althea Gibson, Olympic tennis champion and HBCU grad (Florida A&M University). Fewer of us know about Slowe.
Lucy Diggs Slowe
Born in Berryville, Virginia on July 4, 1885, Slowe made history as the winner of the first ATA National Women’s Singles Championship in 1917. This victory made her the first African American woman to win a major sports title. On January 15, 1908 Slowe and nine other woman founded the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. This organization has become one of the most influential association of black woman in the world. In 1919, she worked with District of Columba officials to create the first junior high school in the system. Slowe served as principal of this school for three years. In 1922, she became the first Dean of Women at Howard University. In 1923, Slowe became the founder and president of the National Association of College Women. In 1929, she founded the Association of Deans of Women and Advisors to Girls in Negro Schools (NAWDACS). https://theundefeated.com/features/black-tennis-history-timeline/ This timeline is worth checking out. All of the Black tennis greats are included in this listing and short stories.
As for Slowe, I love the most profound summary bio of her https://ivyleague.com/sports/2017/7/28/history-blackhistory-2011-12-lucy-diggs-slowe.aspx. She was one of the founders of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. on Howard University’s campus in 1907-08. She is also from the “Divine Nine” family royalty of founders as her cousin, Elder Watston Diggs, was one of the founders of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. in 1911. Her founding of schools and academic achievements are also well described in the bio summary.
Finally, young Turnbough also comes from sports and social activism legacy. Her grandfather, Charles Bryant, uncles and cousins are (grandfather Bryant has passed) proven, top athletes. https://omaha.com/sports/huskers/bryant-family-history-comes-full-circle-but-not-in-nebraska-red/article_cc6dd3d5-22c4-56c5-9c64-c58e3d57eac5.html.
Enjoy the game, Allie.
Note: I located this article and am sharing it with my audience. Thank you, Adam Gustafson of Penn State.
In 1851, a concert soprano named Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield embarked on a national tour that upended America’s music scene.© Wikimedia Commons Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield.
In antebellum America, operatic and concert songs were very popular forms of entertainment. European concert sopranos, such as Jenny Lind and Catherine Hayes, drew huge crowds and rave reviews during their U.S. tours. Lind was so popular that baby cribs still bear her name, and you can now visit an unincorporated community called Jenny Lind, California.AdRECOMMENDEDOnline Doctoral ProgramsMicrosoft AdsStaples Computer Desks FurnitureMicrosoft AdsDeals for Desk LegsMicrosoft AdsDeals for Genealogy SoftwareMicrosoft AdsDeals for Large DeskMicrosoft AdsDeals for Desk FurnitureMicrosoft Ads
Greenfield, however, was different. She was a former slave. And she was performing songs that a burgeoning field of American music criticism, led by John Sullivan Dwight, considered reserved for white artists. African-American artists, most 19th-century critics argued, lacked the refined cultivation of white, Eurocentric genius, and could create only simple music that lacked artistic depth. It was a prejudice that stretched as far back as Thomas Jefferson in his “Notes on the State of Virginia” and was later reinforced by minstrel shows.
But when Greenfield appeared on the scene, she shattered preexisting beliefs about artistry and race.
‘The Black Swan’
Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield was born into slavery in Natchez, Mississippi, around 1820. As a girl, she was taken to Philadelphia and raised by an abolitionist.
Largely self-taught as a singer, she began her concert career in New York with the support of the Buffalo Musical Association. In Buffalo, she was saddled with the nickname “the Black Swan,” a crude attempt to play off the popularity of Jenny Lind – known as “the Swedish Nightingale” – who was wrapping up one of the most popular concert tours in American history.
In 1851, Colonel Joseph H. Wood became Greenfield’s promoter. Wood, however, was an overt racist and inhumane promoter known for creating wonderment museums in Cincinnati and Chicago that featured exhibits like the “Lilliputian King,” a boy who stood 16 inches tall. With Greenfield, he sought to replicate the success that another promoter, P.T. Barnum, had with Jenny Lind.© Encyclopedia of Chicago Joseph H. Wood’s museum in Chicago.
In a letter to Frederick Douglass, Martin R. Delany, a physician, newspaper editor and Civil War hero, wrote that Wood was a fervent supporter of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and would not admit black patrons into his museums or at Greenfield’s concerts.
For Greenfield’s African-American supporters, it was a point of huge contention throughout her career.
Critics reconcile their ears with their racism
In antebellum America, the minstrel show was one of the most popular forms of musical entertainment. White actors in blackface exploited common stereotypes of African-Americans, grossly exaggerating their dialect, fashion, dancing and singing.
For example, the popular song “Zip Coon” portrayed African-Americans as clumsily striving for the refinement of white culture. The cover of the sheet music for “Zip Coon” shows an African-American attempting to mimic refined fashions of the day and failing. The song goes on to mock its subject, Zip Coon, as a “learned scholar,” while putting him in situations where his apparent lack of intelligence shows.
Greenfield’s performances, however, forced her critics to rethink this stereotype. The Cleveland Plain Dealer described the confusion that Greenfield caused for her audiences:
“It was amusing to behold the utter surprise and intense pleasure which were depicted on the faces of her listeners; they seemed to express – ‘Why, we see the face of a black woman, but hear the voice of an angel, what does it mean?’”
Critics agreed that Greenfield was a major talent. But they found it difficult to reconcile their ears with their racism. One solution was to describe her as a talented, but unpolished, singer.
For example, the New-York Daily Tribune reported that “it is hardly necessary to say that we did not expect to find an artist on the occasion. She has a fine voice but does not know how to use it.” (We see a similar phenomenon today in sports coverage, in which black athletes are often praised for their raw physical athleticism, while white athletes are praised for their game intelligence.)
By performing repertoire thought too complex for black artists – and by doing it well – Greenfield forced her white critics and audiences to reexamine their assumptions about the abilities of African-American singers.
A star is born
On Thursday, March 31, 1853, Greenfield made her New York City premiere at Metropolitan Hall.
Originally built for Jenny Lind, it was one of the largest performance halls in the world. The day before the concert, the New-York Daily Tribune carried an ad that read, “Particular Notice – No colored persons can be admitted, as there has been no part of the house appropriated for them.” The ban resulted in a citywide uproar that prompted New York City’s first police commissioner, George W. Matsell, to send a large police unit to Metropolitan Hall.
Greenfield was met with laughter when she took to the stage. Several critics blamed the uncouth crowd in attendance; others wrote it off as lighthearted amusement. One report described the awkwardness of the show’s opening moments:
“She was timidly led forward to the front of the stage by a little white representative of the genus homo, who seemed afraid to touch her even with the tips of his white kids [gloves], and kept the ‘Swan’ at a respectful distance, as if she were a sort of biped hippopotamus.”
Despite the inauspicious beginning, critics agreed that her range and power were astonishing. After her American tour, a successful European tour ensued, where she was accompanied by her friend Harriet Beecher Stowe.
A singer’s legacy
Greenfield paved the way for a host of black female concert singers, from Sissieretta Jones to Audra McDonald. In 1921, the musician and music publisher Harry Pace named the first successful black-owned record company, Black Swan Records, in her honor.
But these achievements are byproducts of a much larger legacy.
In Stowe’s novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” one of the slave children, Topsy, is taken in by a northern abolitionist, Miss Ophelia. Despite her best attempts, Ophelia can’t reform Topsy, who continues to act out and steal. When asked why she continues to behave as she does – despite the intervention of implied white goodness – Topsy replies that she’s can’t be good so long as her skin is black because her white caregivers are incapable of seeing goodness in a black body. Her only solution is to have her skin turned inside out so she can be white.
Stowe’s argument was not that we should begin skinning children. Rather, Topsy is a critique of the act of “othering” African-Americans by a dominant culture that refuses to acknowledge their full humanity.
After Greenfield’s New York concert, the New-York Daily Tribune recognized the monumental nature of Greenfield’s heroics. The paper urged her to leave America for Europe – and to stay there – the implication being that Greenfield’s home country wasn’t ready to accept the legitimacy of black artistry.
But Greenfield’s tour did more than prove to white audiences that black performers could sing as well as their European peers. Her tour challenged Americans to begin to recognize the full artistry – and, ultimately, the full humanity – of their fellow citizens.
Adam Gustafson does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.