Abe Villarreal is the Assistant Dean of Student Support and Civic Engagement at Western New Mexico University. When not on campus, he enjoys writing about his observations on marketing, life, people and American traditions.
By Abe Villarreal
During the summer of 1865, slaves across the State of Texas remained unaware of President Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. The 16th President had put his pen to the historic document on January 1, 1863, two and a half years prior.
Southern slave owners throughout the Confederacy ignored the Chief Executive’s declaration, which stated that slaves in “rebellious states” should be free and proclaimed “liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” Northern abolitionists rejoiced, handing out leaflets stating the newfound freedom that would come to millions.
And yet, the proclamation served as only the first step in liberating the many that would not experience their emancipation for some time to come.
In towns like Galveston, Texas, a coastal community in a remote corner of the conquered Confederacy, slaves were busy toiling away. The days were long and the weather humid. Because of its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, the smuggling of slaves was made easy. The future of freedom was a far away thought and the New Year’s Day announcement of 1863 was an unknown happening.
Freed slave and activist Frederick Douglas wrote about the dehumanizing effect of slavery in his biographical narrative. He vividly described the tone of the songs that were sung by slaves.
“The hearing of these wild notes always depressed my spirit, and filled me with ineffable sadness,” Douglass explained. “If anyone wishes to be impressed with the soul-killing effects of slavery, let him go to Colonel Lloyd’s plantation, and, on allowance-day, place himself in the deep pine woods, and there let him, in silence, analyze the sounds that shall pass through the chambers of his soul.”
Slave owners manifested their control of human property by giving slaves only the bare minimum to survive. A monthly allowance of corn, pickled pork and herrings was given to the slaves, just enough to keep the workers alive. It was the White man’s weapon of control.
But a new day was on the horizon. The message of hope and independence was arriving in the form of two thousand Union soldiers. Slaves were finally notified of President Lincoln’s fateful action on June 19, 1865, when the Union took control of Galveston. Many suspect that southern slave owners were aware of the Emancipation Proclamation well before the summer of 1865.
The message shared was titled General Orders, Number 3, and in part, read as follows:
“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.”
The freed residents of Galveston, Texas soon began an annual celebration to commemorate June 19, known as Juneteenth. It was the slave man’s Independence Day with all the familiar celebrations including church picnics and barbecues.
Today, Juneteenth is observed in communities across the United States. While it is the oldest known celebration honoring the end of slavery, its awareness has paralleled the Emancipation Proclamation’s long journey to freedom.
It wasn’t until 1980 that Texas, becoming the first state to do so, declared Juneteenth as a state holiday. In 1996, legislation was introduced in the U.S. Congress to recognize Juneteenth Independence Day. In 2018, Apple added to its operating systems Juneteenth as an official US holiday.
The work continues in spreading the message of freedom and liberty to all corners of the world. On this June 19, take a moment to recognize that for many in this country the wait for freedom has been longer, much longer than it should have ever been.
By Abe Villarreal
Since time immemorial, societies and cultures have relied on individuals of influence, people of power, to provide what we know as leadership.
It’s a term that means something different to everyone who speaks and hears it. My leader is different than yours, not just from the ideas he represents but also from his actions and in the manner of his conduct.
And today, at a time of great debate on all things small and large, we are redefining leadership from a classic sense understood by our parents and grandparents to one that meets the expectations and desires of a 21st-century people.
By Abe Villarreal
I grew up in a small, traditional town. It was and still is, predominantly Hispanic and socially conservative.
Dad and mom taught us to dress well to attend church, to shake everyone’s hand, and to greet people with sir and mam.
I appreciate my upbringing and I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world. And yet, I missed something important in my rearing. Something that would have changed my thinking and understanding of communities, people, and society: meeting people that sounded, looked, and thought differently than I did.
By Abe Villarreal
At a dinner earlier this week, I sat next to an American flag that was beautifully lit and framed. Hanging on a wall inside the historic Buckhorn Saloon and Opera House, it gave me that little feeling of patriotism you feel when you hear the beautiful words of America The Beautiful, or see members of our military saluting Old Glory.
This flag had only 46 stars. I quickly started doing the math in my head. I knew that New Mexico became a state in January of 1912 giving the flag its 47th star.
And for only one month, the 47-star flag existed before Arizona gained statehood in February of 1912. So, I started doing some research.