Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Juneteenth, or Know Your History (And Their's Too)

It's Juneteenth again; time to celebrate the culmination of the centuries long struggle our people underwent against the slaveholding system that the American nation was pretty much built upon.

Taking inspiration from some of the brilliant writing I've been reading lately in the Afrospear/Afrosphere, and noting the fact that my ancestors here in Texas were the last group of American slaves to hear of the Emancipation Proclamation, I've taken the liberty to draft this abrogated history of my home state and it's pivotal role in OUR history.

Now, I'm a native Texan. What that means is that I was born in the state and have lived here for a good portion of my life. It also means that I attended the public schools here, which means that I am well versed in at least what is called Texas history. You've all probably heard some of it: Rugged pioneers immigrated in to claim free land offered by the Mexican government (which possessed Texas at the time). Said Mexican government begins to infringe on the rights of the aforementioned settlers, who began a fight for independence. That fight led to the establishment of Texas as an independent nation in April 1836, and later joining the United States in 1845.

The two major battles that illustrate the Texas War of Independence took place at the Alamo in San Antonio, and San Jacinto, near present-day Houston. The Texians (as they called themselves) were defeated at the Alamo, although you would never be able to tell from the historical embossments and myriad theatrical retellings of that 13-day siege that ended up with everyone inside dead. The second battle was at San Jacinto a few days later, where the main Texian army under Gen. Sam Houston caught the Mexican Army by surprise and routed them in a matter of minutes, leading to Texas independence. Legend has it that the presence of a Black woman in the tent of the Mexican Army commander (and President) Gen. Santa Anna, the so-called "Yellow Rose of Texas," was a major reason why the Mexican Army was not exactly on high alert at the time of Houston's attack. The Yellow Rose was one Emily West, and you can read more about her here.

Ms. West's role notwithstanding, the Battle of San Jacinto signified a major shift in the balance of power on the North American continent. Within 15 years, the United States had taken possession of nearly half of all Mexican territory. This was accomplished after a devastating war during which the United States invaded to secure Texas' right to be annexed, and to establish its southern border at the Rio Grande River. The resulting peace treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ceded all Mexican claims to Texas, New Mexico, and California.

Think about that for a minute. Before the Mexican-American War, Mexico and the United States were about the same size, and had approximately the same number of people. Afterwards, well, you know the rest. Here's a visual.

The great untold truth in regard to Texas independence, and later annexation, is the role of slavery. In fact, slavery had been abolished by most of the former Spanish colonies upon independence, and in Mexico specifically by 1829. After multiple legislative sessions focusing on the slavery question, The Mexican Congress issued a decree on July 13, 1824 that;

...left no room for doubt as to the attitude of that body towards at least one phase of the slavery question. It prohibited the slave trade, domestic and foreign, in the most positive terms. Infractions of the law were to be punished with the greatest severity: any vessel engaged in this traffic, which brought slaves to Mexico, was to be confiscated with its cargo; and the owner, purchaser, captain, master and pilot were to be condemned to a year's imprisonment. Slaves brought into the country by such trade recovered their freedom the moment they touched Mexican soil.

The decree made no provisions for the removal of slaves already in bondage, and allowed an extension of penalties for six months in favor of those colonists who might wish to land slaves in the recently created province of Itsmo (Texas and Coahuila). These slavery debates in the Mexican Congress, as well as the lobbying efforts of Americans settling the Mexican territory of Texas are a fascinating study in themselves. However, despite it's intent with the decree of 1822, the Mexican government;

...while all buoyant with the hopes born of the Revolution and moved by theories of the equality and brotherhood of man, authorized the introduction of negro slavery into one of its fairest provinces, while it deluded itself with the belief that it was providing for the almost immediate extermination of the abhorred institution.

Most of the settlers who came to Texas were from slaveholding southern states. These people were not interested in settling a new territory unless provisions were made for their slaves as well, and were willing to fight to maintain that right. This led to a prolonged discourse within the Mexican Congress that persisted through multiple changes of government, coups, and finally, revolution. I could go on, but the end result dramatically altered the balance of power on the North American continent, and helped to solidify the institution of slavery in Texas until Union Gordon Granger landed at Galveston in 1865 with news of the two-year old Emancipation Proclamation and our right to henceforth and forever annually barbecue chicken and ribs in commemoration.

Happy Juneteenth Y'all!

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