“Juneteenth Jamboree” – Fatso Bentley
Gladys “Fatso” Bentley, Blues vocals, b. 1907, Philadelphia. In the early 1930s, this well known lesbian singer appeared at Harlem’s Ubangi Club, backed by a chorus of men in drag.
Juneteenth is the oldest celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. On June 19th Eighteen and Sixty-Five, 2,000 Union soldiers landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free.
General Gordon Granger read the contents of “General Order No. 3”: The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. Of course, this was two and a half years after Emancipation. However, Emancipation had little impact in Texas due to the small number of Union troops available to enforce it. But, with the surrender of General Lee in April of Eighteen and 65, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment in Galveston, the Union forces were finally strong enough to bring about freeing the 250,000 slaves in Texas. Slaves in Galveston rejoiced in the streets with jubilant celebrations.
The first organized celebrations of Juneteenth were used as political rallies and to teach freed African Americans about their voting rights. Within a short time, Juneteenth was marked by festivities throughout the state. In the state capital Juneteenth was first celebrated in 1867 under the direction of the Freedmen’s Bureau, and became part of the calendar of public events by 1872. Juneteenth declined in popularity in the early 1960s, when the civil-rights movement diminished interest in the event. But by the 1970s African Americans’ renewed interest in celebrating their cultural heritage led to the revitalization of the holiday in Texas, and Juneteenth became an official Texas state holiday in 1980.
Although Dylan is right that only Texas officially celebrates Juneteenth, thirteen other states list it as an official holiday, including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Alaska, and California, and there is ongoing movement to make June 19th a national holiday.