Last Sunday was not only Father’s Day, it was also Juneteenth. Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration of the ending of slavery. On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and all slaves were free. This was 2 1/2 years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which became official January 1, 1863.
In Texas, the proclamation had no impact because there were no Union troops to enforce the order. It wasn’t until General Lee surrendered in April of 1865 and General Granger’s regiment arrived that forces were strong enough to overcome any resistance. Several versions as to why this 2 1/2-year delay occurred range from a) the messenger was murdered on his way to Texas with the news; b) the news was deliberately withheld by slave masters to maintain the labor force on the plantations; c) federal troops waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest.
Regardless, on June 17th of this year, Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn dedicated the new Emancipation Garden at the Paul Robeson High School, 6835 S. Normal. Many of the young people were dressed in beautiful clothing and costumes from the Civil War era. Principal James Breashers and students, including the marching band, took part in the celebration.
“Kwesi” Ronald Harris introduced the Lt. Governor, saying, “Pat Quinn chose to stand on the just position. He was one of the ones who delivered a deciding blow to tell the tobacco industry, ‘Leave Pooie, Peaches, Puddin’ and Pumpkin alone. Get off of our babies. They are not for sale.'”
Quinn said, “Here we are on 140th anniversary of Juneteenth. As a living tribute to the end of slavery and the beginning of freedom, this garden has been planted. We call it the “Juneteenth Emancipation Garden,” and we want to dedicate it here today.”
Quinn introduced the pastor of Quinn Chapel, Dr. James E. Moody, one of Chicago’s oldest churches and known for being part of the “Underground Railroad.”
“I want to speak to you specifically about the present?”of African American people here in Chicago,” said Dr. Moody. Since Du Sable founded Chicago, we have been here. Chicago was incorporated in 1837 and about seven years after, a group of African people established a church in 1844, and that church then was a part of the American history scene right here in Chicago. We know that Quinn Chapel participated in the Underground Railroad, so as we now speak of freedom, let’s remember that before Juneteenth there was an underground railroad that moved people from slavery into freedom. The only way we can move ahead is to remember.”
Other speakers included Ald. Freddrenna Lyle, 6th Ward; Mattie Hunter, state senator; Milton Patterson, state rep.; Marlow Calvin, state rep.; Commander Patterson, 7th Dist.; and special guest Junius Gaten. A mere 37 years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Junius Gaten was born in 1900.
“I’ve been in Chicago since I was five years old,” Gaten said. I grew up here, and I fought every step of the way. I remember when you couldn’t get into Englewood School. I lived in the Grand Boulevard area. I was an iceman there. I fought for the women, voted whiskey out and the women in. I’m glad to see all you youngsters around here. Stay in school whatever you do. Don’t let nobody convince you that you don’t need no schooling. Get your education and degree. You might not need the degree but you’re going to need that education. You better mind what I’m telling you. I’ve been around. So go to church, thank God that you’re here, thank him for everything. I get up every morning and look in the mirror and see if it’s me. I know if I’m not in the obituary, I’m in the mirror.
“Don’t be hard-headed. Stay in school, mind your elders, respect your elders. And let me say this to my boys. We got a habit of not respecting our women. That’s not good for any of us. Respect your ladies. Remember, your mama was a lady. Take that to heart, take my advice and next time I come I’ll tell you a little something about slavery.”