Black ExperienceLifestyle

Reflecting on Juneteenth, ‘Independence Day’ for All African-American Texans

As I watched President Biden sign the Juneteenth federal holiday bill into law at the White House on June 17, I quietly reflected on my years as a youngster and teenager in Austin, Texas, celebrating what we Black Texans quietly call “our Independence Day.”

Before Juneteenth became a state holiday in 1980, African American Texans celebrated it by taking the day off work. Most employers in the state knew about Juneteenth, so they excused absences as a matter of tradition.

In the James Wright Sr. household, my dad would get up early in the morning and start grilling. He bought steaks, hotdogs, hamburger meat and ribs the night before.

My mother, Helen Wright, would get up early also and started preparing cakes, cookies and pies. My sister Janet and I would get up later but we tended to go our separate ways in the morning.

While Janet would join her female friends to spend the day with, I walked or took the bus to Rosewood Park with buddies James Stevens and Lark Sidle. We would later see Janet and her friends Toni Martin, Cheryl Brown, Jennifer Neal and Sharian Brown at Rosewood but we would just speak and go about our business.

At 11 a.m., activities would start at Rosewood. On the stage, a program consisting of Black politicians such as State Rep. Wilhelmina Delco (D-Austin), City Councilmembers Jimmy Snell and later Charles Urdy and School Board Trustee the Rev. Marvin Griffin delivered remarks on Juneteenth and the importance of registering to vote.

After the program, my friends and I played pick up football and basketball while hundreds of people visited clothing, merchandise and food booths. Toddlers got their faces painted and rode ponies. Some families had picnics while others played cards.  Musical groups performed on the stage while people danced.

When the early evening set in, people would leave Rosewood Park to go home. My friends and I managed to get a ride home every year.

At home, my family would sit around the table filled with barbecued steak, ribs, chicken, sausage, vegetables, cake, pecan pie and lemonade. We talked about Juneteenth but mainly we gossiped about the neighbors and local “notables” and their dimwitted children as we ate.

After Republican Gov. Bill Clements signed the Juneteenth State Holiday bill into law in 1980, thanks to the efforts of State Rep. Al Edwards (D-Houston), nothing changed. We basically had the same routine for years at Rosewood Park until everyone I grew up with moved on.

Watching Biden sign the Juneteenth bill didn’t produce thoughts of Union Gen. Gordon Granger’s actions in 1865. However, because of Granger, I hold fond memories of “our Independence Day.”

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