Juneteenth could possibly be seen as the most significant event in American history after independence itself—the eradication of American slavery. On June 19, 1865, more than two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, the word finally came down to slaves in Texas, the westernmost of the Confederate states. Juneteenth became so significant in black communities in Texas that it inspired many to purchase and reserve a plot of land as a public park and celebration grounds.
Across many parts of Texas, freed people pooled their funds to purchase land specifically for their communities and festive Juneteenth gatherings — including Houston’s Emancipation Park, Mexia’s Booker T. Washington Park, and Emancipation Park in Austin.
Speeches were given, new works of art were created, dancing took place. Wagons were decorated with flowers and a parade would proceed around the park. In later years, automobiles were used to furnish rides around the race track, which encircled the outer edge of the parks. Now a century and half later these celebrations continue but have declined, yet these historic sites remain with memories of these rich cultural celebrations of public artistic expression among African-Americans.
Apartheid was a politics of space more than anything…. much of the Apartheid legislation was denying people the right to move. It’s all about space, restricting space… Claiming art is also reclaiming space. – artist, David Koloane, 1995
1. Martha Yates Jones & Pinkie Yates at Antioch Baptist Church in a buggy decorated for the annual Juneteenth celebration (c. 1895- 1905). Courtesy of Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library.
2. Juneteenth celebration in Austin, June 19, 1900. Austin History Center, Austin Public Library.
3. Juneteenth celebration in Eastwoods Park, Austin, 1900 (Austin History Center)
4. Martha and Pinkie Yates in a buggy decorated for the annual Juneteenth celebration in front 319 Robin St. in the Fourth Ward (c.1895-1905). Courtesy of Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library.
5. Juneteenth Independence Heights Parade in Missouri City, Houston