Free to live and lead
June 19th originated in Galveston, Texas in 1865, observing June 19 as African American Emancipation Day. Two and a half years after the Abraham Lincoln Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, Union soldiers landed in Galveston, Texas, with the news that the war was over and the enslaved were free.
Many great men and women were born into slavery, but they overcame obstacles and became politicians, thus becoming spokesmen for the many who suffered and continued to suffer even after the Emancipation Proclamation. One such person is Booker T. Washington, born April 5, 1856, in Hale’s Ford, Virginia. His mother was a slave and his father owned a white plantation. The son of a slave, he was also a slave, according to the laws of the time. In 1865, they were released under the Emancipation Proclamation. He, his mother, and his siblings moved to Malden, WV to reunite with their stepfather. At the age of nine, he worked various jobs with his mother and was even briefly hired to work on a steamboat. He became a servant to Viola Ruffner, the wife of General Lewis Ruffner. She encouraged him to go to school and study. He was soon ready for a higher education and enrolled at the Hampton Agricultural and Normal Institute, paying his way by working. From 1878 to 1879, he went to Wayland Seminary in Washington, DC and returned to Hampton to teach. Hampton officials recommended him for a principal position at a similar school that was opening in Alabama.
He became the first director of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in 1881, the school that is now Tuskegee University. Washington befriended some very influential and prominent politicians and businessmen, such as Andrew Carnegie and William Howard Taft, through whom several small schools were founded to establish better educational facilities for African Americans. One of his greatest friends was with Henry H. Rogers, who became a director of Standard Oil. Rogers, a millionaire, secretly funded 65 small rural schools for African Americans and donated money to Tuskegee and Hampton Universities. Washington had become a great public speaker and was recognized as a brilliant educator. His famous Atlanta Speech of 1895, in which he urged business owners to hire African Americans rather than daily arrivals and African Americans to join the workforce, changed hiring practices and attitudes and became one of the most important speeches in American history. Although he was only elected to university positions, Washington was quite influential in politics and left a great mark on history.
Blanche K. Bruce was born into slavery on March 1, 1841, in Virginia. During his moves from Virginia to Mississippi and then to Missouri, he was tutored by the son of his teacher. He escaped from slavery at the beginning of the Civil War and attempted to enlist in the Union Army. He was denied entry and in 1864 he moved to Hannibal, Missouri and opened the first black school. Five years later, he moved to Mississippi and became involved in politics. His appointments included a voter registrar in Tallahatchee county, a tax assessor in Bolívar county, then he was elected sheriff and a tax collector from the same county. On a trip to Jackson, Mississippi in 1870, Bruce made some very important connections with powerful white Republicans and received several appointments that eventually led to him being recognized as the most recognized black political leader in Mississippi. In 1874, he was elected to the United States Senate by the Mississippi legislature. He convinced the government to grant land grants in the west to black emigrants and called for the desegregation of US military units. On February 14, 1879, he became the first black senator to preside over a session of the Senate. He was an advocate of humane treatment of Indians and became a lecturer and author of magazine articles. He died in Washington on March 17, 1898.
John Roy Lynch was born on September 10, 1847, on a plantation near Vidalia, Louisiana. His father was Patrick Lynch, a plantation manager, and his mother was Catherine White, a slave. Patrick Lynch, who was an Irish immigrant, bought his wife and two children from the plantation owner, but due to a law in Louisiana, they had to leave the state for Lynch to release them. Lynch transferred the property of his wife and children to a friend, as he was sick and dying, with the promise that they would be treated as free individuals. However, the friend did not keep his promise and sold the family to a planter in Natchez, Mississippi.
Union forces released John Roy, then 16, in 1863. He worked various jobs and in 1866, he ran a photography shop in Natchez and learned to read from newspapers and books and was quite interested in parliamentary law. In 1868, he made several speeches supporting Mississippi legislation that legalized all slave marriages. In 1869, he was sent by the Republican Natchez Club to discuss political appointments with the military governor of Mississippi. Impressed with his presentation, he was appointed a justice of the peace and that same year he was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives. He worked closely with Blanche K. Bruce, primarily on Black Civil Rights. Given his birth as a slave and lack of formal education, he really had a huge impact on African Americans.
Like the many people who made the pilgrimage back to Galveston, Texas each year to remember the ancestors’ actions that made a difference, we must celebrate June 19 no matter what their heritage is, as all of our ancestors they made sacrifices and stood up for what they believed in. in what we have achieved the positions we have today. Go on a family outing, a picnic, a celebration, just like you would on the 4th of July, because that’s what it’s all about; celebrating the freedom you have for the dedication and beliefs of those who walked that path before us and for us.