WAXAHACHIE — As General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston to announce the abolition of slavery in Texas on June 19, 1865, African-Americans rejoiced.
They had broken the chains of slavery as free Americans.
One-hundred-and-fifty-two years later, Texas continues to observe the holiday as a way of paying homage to the hardships that African-Americans were faced with just over a century-and-a-half ago. And, while the entirety of Texas played a role in the billion-dollar industry, Ellis County helped pave the way.
The largest cotton-producing county in the early 1900s, Ellis County became prime real estate for those seeking to flee the new anti-slavery policy put into effect by the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln. However, because Texas was not labeled a “battleground” state, slave owners began flocking to the area in hopes that their "property" wouldn’t be affected by the executive order.
With these new challenges in mind, slaves in the Confederate South began exploring new ways to flee, explains Dr. Jamal Rasheed, author, producer and owner of the Ellis County African American Hall of Fame in Waxahachie.
“In 1936, a gentleman named Victor Hugo Green produced ‘The Negro Motorist Green Book,’ which we just call 'The Green Book,'” Rasheed said. “In it was listed all of the places in the south that were safe for African Americans to travel to and stay for safety. In that book, there were four houses that are located right here in Waxahachie.”
Various other memorabilia can be found in the Ellis County African-American Hall of Fame, where African-Americans — and some Caucasians — are recognized for their role in both the slave-era and Civil Rights Movement. In the renovated space that formerly acted as a meeting ground for African-Americans attending prom, there lies hundreds of photographs, preserved artifacts and patterned quilts.
Though deemed a beautiful decoration at first glance, one would never know the momentous role the stitched fabric once played in the lives of slaves.
“These quilts provided directions to slaves who were traveling along the Underground Railroad,” Rasheed explained. “They would tell them which way to go for a different passage. Each of the quilts told them where a railroad was using stitched designs and colors that told them which way to go.”
With staggering facts and living proof of the lengths enslaved people took to find freedom, it is difficult to understand how an entire race was capable of such cruelty; even scarier, in our very own backyard. But despite the inhumane racial climate hundreds of years ago, the Chicago-native says people should be happy with how far the country has come.
“All of you should be pleased with what you see,” Rasheed said. “You see a multi-cultured community. You see integrated and multicolored schools. You’re here in a place that years ago, you couldn’t stand. I had a guy walk up to me and say, ‘Rasheed, I used to shine shoes around that corner. Couldn’t come over here. I had to fight my way across the tracks, but now you don’t have to do that anymore.’ Now that word is out that you have all of these capabilities, you have the opportunity to do all of these things that you couldn’t do before June 19th. You have the opportunity to make that beloved community that Martin Luther King talked about.”
However, Rasheed wants the community to know that there is still plenty of work to be done.
“What Juneteenth should represent isn’t how far the African-American community has come, but how much of the future we still have to plan,” he said. “We still have to plan our future, and in doing that, it must be inclusive- not segregated. June 19th slowly opened up the doors for opportunity. Let us hope that it continues to open up those doors.”
Anyone looking to visit the museum can go to 441 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in Waxahachie.