(L to R) Daphyne Burnett, Mrs. Barbara Matthews, wife of Captain Paul J. Matthews, and Jalilah Haqq

By Daphyne Burnett and Jalilah Haqq

Houston, TX (TN Tribune) -The Juneteenth Celebration, in Houston, TX was exciting for my friend and I as we immersed ourselves in the revelry of this historic event. Many people traveled to Texas from across the USA to experience the observance and activities for this special occasion. June 19th,1865, is the special day that General Gordon Granger and the Union soldiers brought the news which changed the lives of the slaves in Galveston, Texas. General Granger read the proclamation explaining to the slaves that they were free and informed them that the Civil War had come to an end. Thanks to President Joe Biden who signed legislation on June 17, 2021, which made Juneteenth a federal holiday with the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act.

Saturday, June 18th, we started our journey at the Buffalo Soldiers Museum where Captain Paul J. Matthews is the founder. We didn’t see him, but we did meet his wife, Mrs. Barbara Matthews. She talked about how her husband had been collecting military memorabilia for a long time. She said, “he was especially interested in the Buffalo Soldiers stories and wanted to give honor to the African American soldiers who helped to patrol and keep peace after the Civil War”. The Captain, she said, “was fascinated and developed a love for the Buffalo Soldiers when he was an undergraduate student at Prairie View A&M”. The museum started in their home, due to having so many artifacts, they had to find a bigger place. That’s when they took a leap of faith and moved the museum in 2001 to Southmore which was an old home they remodeled in the Third Ward. This museum not only had information about African American male soldiers, but it also had a lot of information about Harriet Tubman and many early black female soldiers as well as female soldiers of other races whose stories have been left untold.

After visiting the Buffalo Soldiers Museum, we went to the Houston Museum of African American Culture (HMAAC) the most powerful testaments were two young people we had the pleasure of meeting. They were not waiting on 40 acres and a mule but moving forward building their own wealth. We first met Amiya Henderson, a sixteen-year-old female who makes bracelets and can tell you about the healing powers of the stones she uses. She said, “she found her path in high school and has had her business since her freshman year”. She said, “today you don’t have to go out there in the workforce, you can create your own business”. We also met Uzziah Campbell, 13 a year old whose dream is to calm the world. He said, “that his mother suffered from mental illness, when he was 11, he started making the candles and, they helped to calm her down. So, he has been making candles ever since because he knows candles will help to calm other people down too.

We then ventured to Emancipation Park in Houston, TX where they were celebrating its 150th Anniversary during the Juneteenth celebrations from Friday, June 17th through Sunday, June 19th, which included concerts with the Isley Brothers, Sheila E., Kool & The Gang, & Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly along with other gospel singers and black story tellers. Food, kids zone areas, informational booths, and pageants were a part of these experiences. There were so many important messages given by so many, just to name a few: Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Pastor Lou McElroy, First Lady Jacqueline McElroy, and Congressman Al Green. “Emancipation Park was purchased in 1872 by four former slaves, Richard Allen, Richard Brock, Jack Yates, Elias Dibble with the help of several women, community leaders and members in Third & Fourth Ward communities. The purchase represented not only their freedom, but property ownership, unity, and cooperative economics amongst African Americans”. The speakers gave praise to the legendary Reverend Jack Yates, the Pastor of Antioch Church and the Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church who founded the Emancipation Park Association and began the first Colored People’s Festival. This park served as the only place where African Americans could swim and have community until the 1950s. This rich history was told of the collective efforts the Black community did after slavery in Houston, Texas. It is very important for our children to know their history. Kool & the Gang sang “Celebrate Good Times, Come On”. Celebrating is what we did.

On Sunday, June 19th, we drove to Galveston, TX and stood in the hallowed space of Ashton Villa, and heard Allen Mack, founder of the Living History Foundation, and representing the 1st Corps d’Afrique Engineers Regiment during the ceremony he did an enactment of the proclamation of the General Order No. 3, that General Gordon Granger and the Union Soldiers delivered in 1863. You may be asking, what does a small island in Galveston have to do with this story? Galveston is where this message began, but it was not where it ended. If you asked Sam Collins, a historian and co-chair of the Juneteenth Legacy Project he said, “Juneteenth is not about enslavement and suffering, Juneteenth is about a spirit of renewal that celebrates freedom and opportunity. Absolute equality is not about equal results but about creating a society that supports all to become their very best selves to benefit the collective community.” We were able to see this struggle and journey of Absolute Equality in the mural that was created by Reginald C. Adams, Founder Artist Director. Through this piece of art, we had dialogue with a lot of people that stopped by and just stood there using the QR code reader to learn more about the Juneteenth and African American journey after slavery. We then went into the NIA Cultural Center, and viewed African American Art that told our stories, but also witnessed Allen Mack ring the silver bell that was a symbol that we were free.

While on the historic Galveston Island, we walked to this historic church where the parade started from. The historic Reedy Chapel AME Church, which was started in 1848. This church was the place where slaves gathered to have church on the island. This site was said to be the last site where General Gordon Granger stopped spreading the word of freedom. This was also the church where previous Juneteenth celebrations have happened as people marched from the courthouse to the church. On Sunday, June 19, 2022, there were celebrations at the church with kids bounces, live music, food trucks, and oral historians providing the history of the church.

On Monday we ended our journey at Whole Foods in Independence Heights. We were informed about the Mural painted by local artist Danny Asberry El that is on the side of the Whole Foods building. We learned from Attorney Ronald McCullough the history of Independence Heights founded in 1908 and incorporated as the first African Americans city in Texas in 1915. This mural is a symbol of Independence Heights first City Hall, (Burgess Hall), churches, and choirs. Attorney McCullough gave us the history of his great-grandfather (whose likeness was among others on the mural) Arthur L. McCullough was the third & final mayor of Independence Heights. McCullough founded two churches, Concord Baptist Church which dissolved about 20 years ago, and when he started preaching formed the Salem Missionary Baptist Church where he pastored until his death in 1973.