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the whole world went crazy
because the “Negroes” were coming down the street
from want of bread, of pride, of dignity,
of our liberation.
this is our audacity--
to learn to pronounce freedom,
for the brittle body to rearrange itself,
with all the power,
against all hope.
(credit for lines used listed below)
in 1862 Black slaves in the united states were declared free by the "emancipation proclamation." interesting thing was, this news was very slow in making its way to the south. for two & a half years, from 1862-1865, Black slaves in texas were largely unaware of the fact that they were even free.
news in texas was slow in getting around. this was compounded by the fact that in 1862, far more slaves made their way to texas than had possibly ever been there. quoting historian leon litwack, henry louis gates jr. says in his article "what is juneteenth?," "[...]in 1862, slave owners in Mississippi, Louisiana and other points east had been migrating to Texas to escape the Union Army’s reach [...] more than 150,000 slaves had made the trek west."
a number of factors including this mass migration, like texas taking longer for union troops to get around to since it was geographically far off in the confederacy; and slave masters not wanting to lose free labor, Black slaves in texas were among the last in the whole union to even know they were free.
june 19, 1865 a general order number 3 was given by union general gordon granger, beginning with the line "The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free." you can see why this has become a huge celebration for the Black community; not just in the United States but in some other parts of the world as well.
it is important to know that juneteenth did not mark the end of slavery in the united states. slavery for Black people was made officially illegal with the 13th amendment, but even it says slavery is legal to this day. it outlaws slavery "except for punishment of a crime."
equally important is knowing that slaves did not wait for this holiday to become free. there were many movements for freedom; slaves stole, absconded from bondage, led revolts. they believed in and fought for their freedom long before someone came around to tell them they were officially free.
what i have give you today is a very brief overview of only some of the history of the holiday. i would encourage you to learn more about juneteenth yourself. colloquially known as both "emancipation day" and "the only independence day worth celebrating," it holds so much significance for Black americans today.
original poems used in the cento
Line 1. "Devouring the Light, 1968" by Cheryl Boyce-Taylor
2. "RIOT" by Gwendolyn Brooks
3. "Devouring the Light, 1968" by Cheryl Boyce-Taylor
4. "The Struggle Staggers Us" by Margaret Walker
5. "Holy Days" by Larry Neal
6. "Dawn Prayer Call" by Idrissa Simmonds
7. "Magical Negro #80: Brooklyn" by Morgan Parker
8. "Dawn Prayer Call" by Idrissa Simmonds
9. "Letters found Near a Suicide" by Frank Horne
10. "Appalachian Elegy (Sections 1-6)" by bell hooks