News With Nicola Ep. 2: Juneteenth Is Not the Fourth of July

President Biden has signed a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday — part of a vast left-wing conspiracy to replace July 4th, according to Republicans.

JUNETEENTH JULY FOURTH

In this episode of “News With Nicola” we take a look at Juneteenth becoming a new federal holiday. We also briefly take a look at Republican dissent to the bill — apparently celebrating the end of slavery is “unAmerican.” And we wrap things up by listening to a few snippets of an archival interview with a formerly enslaved woman from Texas who comments on the first Juneteenth and what church was like for enslaved African Americans (transcripts of these excerpts are linked to below).


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One hundred and fifty-six years ago — one hundred and fifty-six years — June 19th, 1865 … a major general of the Union Army arrived in Galveston, Texas, to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation and free the last enslaved Americans in Texas from bondage. A day, as you all know — I’m going to repeat some of what was said — that became known as Juneteenth. You all know that. A day that reflects what the Psalm tell us: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” – President Joe Biden

Transcript and Show Notes

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Welcome to another episode of “News With Nicola,” a Faithfully Magazine podcast brought to you by Faithfully Media. I’m your host, Nicola A. Menzie, managing editor at faithfullymagazine.com.

In this episode of “News With Nicola” we take a look at Juneteenth becoming a new federal holiday, the 12th federal holiday for the nation. We also briefly take a look at Republican dissent to the bill — apparently celebrating the end of slavery is “unAmerican.” And we wrap things up by listening to a few snippets of an archival interview with a formerly enslaved woman from Texas who comments on the first Juneteenth and what church was like for enslaved African Americans.

On Thursday, June 17, President Joe Biden signed a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday, saying: “Juneteenth marks both the long, hard night of slavery and subjugation, and a promise of a brighter morning to come. This is a day of profound — in my view — profound weight and profound power. A day in which we remember the moral stain, the terrible toll that slavery took on the country and continues to take — what I’ve long called ‘America’s original sin.’ At the same time, I also remember the extraordinary capacity to heal, and to hope, and to emerge from the most painful moments and a bitter, bitter version of ourselves, but to make a better version of ourselves.

President Biden also referred to the Good Book, saying that the original Juneteenth “reflects what the Psalm tells us: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”

If you didn’t catch footage of Biden signing the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law, then you also missed both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris giving Ms. Opal Lee her flowers. Ms. Lee, 94, is known as the “Grandmother of Juneteenth” due to her decades-long advocacy for the day to be federally recognized.

Juneteenth, or June 19, marks the day when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to about 250,000 enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, in 1865. This was actually two months after the Union Army won the Civil War… and more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation that freed enslaved persons in Southern states.

According to The Associated Press, Juneteenth is the 12th federal holiday and “the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created in 1983” under President Ronald Reagan. All 50 states, except for South Dakota, officially acknowledge Juneteenth on some level. South Dakota lawmakers apparently haven’t been able to come to an agreement on the proposed bill. But now that Juneteenth is a federal holiday, things might change for South Dakota.

Now, Texas, ground zero for Juneteenth, didn’t formally recognize this day as a holiday until 1979. That was the year lawmakers approved a bill introduced by state Democrat Rep. Al Edwards. Edwards, “a veteran civil rights activist who marched with Martin Luther King Jr.,” said this about Juneteenth in 2007:

“This is similar to what God instructed Joshua to do as he led the Israelites into the Promised Land. A national celebration of Juneteenth, state by state, serves a similar purpose for us. Every year we must remind successive generations that this event triggered a series of events that one by one defines the challenges and responsibilities of successive generations. That is why we need this holiday.”

While the Senate passed the bill unanimously, 14 Republicans in the House went on record as being opposed to honoring Juneteenth as a federal holiday. Why?

Well, Rep. Matt Rosendale of Montana explained:

“I voted against a bill that would make Juneteenth National Independence Day a federal holiday. One of 14 Republicans to do so. This legislation is the culmination of decades of efforts by the Left to prevent unashamed celebrations of our national story, heritage, and history. Their intent is to replace the Fourth of July with this new day, one that will inevitably focus on America’s darkest moments.

“We’re not perfect as a country, but we are a great nation, morally, economically, culturally, and in many other ways besides. I will never support efforts to pull down that legacy and replace it with self-hatred.”

Apparently, this was the agreed-upon talking point for the fear-mongering far-right who are so concerned about the nation being “divided,” that they are suggesting that people who support this day marking freedom from bondage for oppressed Americans are themselves “unAmerican.”

If they had criticized the bill based on the estimated cost to cover federal holiday pay (estimated in 2014 to be about $660 million), then maybe I could take them seriously.

And comparing Juneteenth to the Fourth of July doesn’t make any sense. July 4th marks the nation’s independence from Great Britain. Juneteenth, on the other hand, marks the end of “the practice of enslaving and owning people and their offspring as property, to be bought, sold and forced to work without wages,” as NPR’s Vanessa Romo put it.

But saying Juneteenth represents one of “America’s darkest moments…” How is liberation a dark moment? Unless he’s referring to the position of White enslavers, those who kept other Americans in bondage? I imagine it was a dark day for White plantation owners in Texas when they had to stop stealing Black people’s labor.

But we don’t even have to imagine, do we? Thanks to the Library of Congress, we can hear for ourselves what Juneteenth was like for the formerly enslaved.

The LOC hosts the American Folklife Center’s collection of recordings of interviews with formerly enslaved persons who share their memories of becoming free. Most of these interviews were done in the 1930s and ’40s, which means the people sharing their experiences were advanced in age and looking back at their youth.

One of these interviews is with Laura Smalley at her home in Hempstead, Texas, in 1941. Ms. Smalley talks with John Henry Faulk (a folklorist and radio show host also from Texas) and another person listed as an Unidentified Female Interviewer.

The LOC has this interview spread out across five parts, so these excerpts you’ll hear shortly are from parts 1, 2, and 3 (links to transcripts of the interviews are cited below).

In part 1, you’ll hear Ms. Smalley talk a little about learning of her freedom on the first Juneteenth. In Part 2, you’ll hear Ms. Smalley talk about how she and the other enslaved persons on the plantation held church. In Part 3, she talks more about church and shares some of the songs they would sing.

Again, this is in 1941 — about 76 years after the very first Juneteenth. And the audio quality is not the best, so you may need to adjust your volume to hear them clearly.

Part 1 Excerpt:

John Henry Faulk: Well, do you remember, remember any of the slaves being sold? Do you remember any slave sellers, you know, men that would just buy and sell slaves?

Mrs. Laura Smalley: No, sir. I never did see it. Why I never, us children never did know that, you know. We heard talk of it, but then I reckon that was after, after slavery I reckon. We heard talk of it. I used to hear them talk about, you know, you putting them on stumps, you know. Or something high, you know and bidding them off like you did cattle.

John Henry Faulk: Hmm.

Mrs. Laura Smalley: Bid them off like you did cattle.

John Henry Faulk: Well, none of your folks were ever sold then?

Mrs. Laura Smalley: No, sir. None of them never was sold.

Unidentified Woman Interviewer: You were born right there and never did leave? You were?

Mrs. Laura Smalley: Born right there and stayed there until I was about nine, ten years old, maybe more. Stayed right there. We didn’t know where to go.

Unidentified Woman Interviewer: Uhmm.

Mrs. Laura Smalley: Mama and them didn’t know where to go, you see after freedom broke. Just turned, just like you turn something out, you know. Didn’t know where to go. That’s just where they stayed.

Unidentified Woman Interviewer: Uh huh. That’s right.

Mrs. Laura Smalley: Hmm. Didn’t know where to go. Turned us out just like, you know, you turn out cattle. [laugh] I say. Didn’t know where ta go.

John Henry Faulk: You remember when the Civil War was being fought?

Mrs. Laura Smalley: Well, I, I can’t remember much about it, but I remember this much: When uh, Mr. Bethany, was gone a long time. Look like a long, long, time. And I remember all the next morning, it when he, he got up. Now don’t get, don’t knock with that back there, Well, ah, he, he ah, we all got up and all of them went to the house. Went to the house to see old master. And I thought old master was dead, but he wasn’t. He had been off to the war, and ah, come back. But then I didn’t know, you know, until the war. I just know he was gone a long time. All the niggas gathered around to see the old master again. You know, and old master didn’t tell you know, they was free.

John Henry Faulk: He didn’t tell you that?

Mrs. Laura Smalley: Uh-uh. No he didn’t tell. They worked there, I think now they say they worked them, six months after that. Six months. And turn them loose on the nineteenth of June. That’s why, you know, we celebrate that day. Colored folks—celebrates that day. [repeats end of sentence]

Part 2 Excerpt:

John Henry Faulk: Well, what about getting married? How did they go about marrying the slaves?

Mrs. Laura Smalley: Well, they told me they jumped over a broom backward. [laughter from all]

Mrs. Laura Smalley: I don’t know. Said, they told me they step over a broom backwards. I don’t know.

John Henry Faulk: Well, did they have church? Did the slaves have a church?

Mrs. Laura Smalley: Oh, oh, I, I never remember no church. Momma said, we’re all in church, I didn’t remember that part of it. All in church. And would have be a tub, tub of water, sitting just like this thing is, you know, and that would catch your voice. And they would, they would have church around there tell them all to get around the tub. Get around that tub.

John Henry Faulk: Old master didn’t want them in the church.

Mrs. Laura Smalley: We don’t have no church. No. We didn’t have no church because. And um, old master come along in one of them, one was ah, was there, having church around the tub and we was down praying. And say he’s down and he prayed and just a prayed and old master come in and just a prayed and he come in and he gave me all of them, “Get up from there.” We didn’t get up, we just a praised him. And old master couldn’t ??? . We [kept (?)] prayed in him and asking the “Lord have mercy on my master. Lord have mercy on old master. Lord have mercy on old master.” Say, “I sure is getting my butt whupped.”

John Henry Faulk: Hmm.

Mrs. Laura Smalley: That’s how you have mercy on old master. I’m dealing with master. Folk didn’t even care for him wouldn’t get up, you know. Just flinch, you know, flinch. Got a person, you know, when person hit you, you know, you flinch. You just pray for old master. Old master step back and fell dead in line and [kick you (?)] naked. Dead in line and [kick you (?)] naked. When ever you stop praying, you know, he, he [said (?)], “Go on [head (?)] and pray.”

John Henry Faulk: Hmm.

Mrs. Laura Smalley: Said, “Go on head and pray.” Because we wouldn’t stop. And ??? that was for the Lord, you know, that because of that.

John Henry Faulk: Yeah, the Lord works a lot of things.

Mrs. Laura Smalley: Yeah, sir. Because the Lord will suffer him stay down there get that whupping where he prayed. You know, just keep up praying. You know, I think I jumped up. I didn’t know….

Part 3 Excerpts:

Mrs. Laura Smalley: Well, I, I well I don’t know about the church when it first started up, no more than the, you know, ah, when I was a child, you know, they used to didn’t have no church, you know, in no house, you know, they always had it in the trees.

Unidentified Woman Interviewer: In the trees?

Mrs. Laura Smalley: Under trees. Under trees. Yes, ma’am. Under trees.

John Henry Faulk: Brush arbors?

Mrs. Laura Smalley: Yes, sir. Some, if they didn’t have no brush arbors, they just had it under the tree. You see. Just had it under a tree. And I don’t know, you know, the because of churches, you know, when you started. But I know when mama and them used to go to church it be under the trees, you know. Out and under, under the trees. And, and didn’t have no church houses much then. Just like, you know, you get a big old tree but and clear all out from under it, and make a, dry stalk down, you know, and make benches on it, you know. That’s what they have church, in—

John Henry Faulk: What kind of songs did they sing? Do you remember the names of any of the songs?

Mrs. Laura Smalley: No. I couldn’t. [laugh] I can’t remember. I couldn’t. You know I can’t read, I never remember the songs. But they didn’t sing songs like they sung now, you know. They’d sing them old song, you know, about Amazing Grace and how sweet it sound, and all like that. But you know I can’t recollect all of them. I can’t recollect them since I been grown.

John Henry Faulk: Well, I declare.

Mrs. Laura Smalley: ??? . [Can’t recollect them (?)]. That’s what’s mostly they sung, Amazing Grace, how sweet it sound, and all like that. And ah, I wouldn’t know hardly all them old songs. Sometime I can bring off them old songs up again, again I can’t.

John Henry Faulk: Well, did you ever hear one called, ah, Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray?

Mrs. Laura Smalley: Yes. I’ve heard that.

John Henry Faulk: Was that one they sang way back then?

Mrs. Laura Smalley: No. They didn’t sing that way back in that time. Now, they sung an old song about the, the Thunderballs Rattling and [Four Sons Stand So Idol Son(?)], Lord I Got to Get Union In My Soul.

John Henry Faulk: How does that go?

Mrs. Laura Smalley: Let me see can, I sing a little of it.

John Henry Faulk: Seem like I remember it.

Mrs. Laura Smalley: [sings Thunderbolts Rattling]

These thunderballs is rattling.

Poor sinners stand so high the sun.

Lord I got Union in My Soul, ain’t got long to stay.

John Henry Faulk: I’ve heard it!

Mrs. Laura Smalley: Yes, sir.

John Henry Faulk: Can you sing the rest of that, that’s a good. That’s a sure find.

Mrs. Laura Smalley: [continues singing: Thunderbolts Rattling]

Lord I ain’t got long to staaay.

Lord I ain’t got long to stay in the world.

Ain’t got long ta stay.

God’s calling me and I ain’t got long to staaa-a-ay.

Lord I ain’t got long to stay in the world.

I ain’t got long to stay.

Good-bye. And I ain’t got long to staaay, Lord.

I ain’t got long to stay in the world.

I ain’t got’ long to staaay.

God’s calling me and I ain’t got long to staaay.

Lord, I ain’t got long to stay in the world.

I ain’t got long to staaay.

Fare ye well, I ain’t got long to staaay.

Lord, I ain’ got long to stay in the world.

I ain’ got long to stay.

Mrs. Laura Smalley: I ain’t got much a voice for singing.

John Henry Faulk: Well, you got, oh, you got a good voice.

Mrs. Laura Smalley: [laugh] I ain’t ??? .

John Henry Faulk: Lord have mercy, child. I didn’t know you could sing that.

Mrs. Laura Smalley: ??? .

Unidentified Woman Interviewer: Yeah. That’s very true.

Mrs. Laura Smalley: I cain’t [can’t], ain’t got no voice for singing.

John Henry Faulk: Ah, what about one of these songs ah, Sinner Don’t Let This Harvest Pass. Did you ever hear that one?

Mrs. Laura Smalley: No, sir. I never knowed that one, Let This Harvest Pass.

Unidentified Woman Interviewer: What’s that other one about, Get On Board Little Children?

John Henry Faulk: Oh, yes. That Old Ship of Zion. Do you remember that one?

Mrs. Laura Smalley: I, I remember it but I don’t know it all.

Unidentified Woman Interviewer: [sings]

Old Ship of Zion!

I seen the oooo-old ship of Zion.

John Henry Faulk: [joins the singing]

Get on board.

Get on board.

Mrs. Laura Smalley: I don’t know all the ??? . I just know a little of it. [sings: Old Ship of Zion while the Unidentified Woman Interviewer hums along]

Get on b-o-o-oard, little children.

Get on board—

Mrs. Laura Smalley: We don’t sing it, you know, that way.

John Henry Faulk: How do you sing it?

Mrs. Laura Smalley: [continues: Old Ship of Zion]

Old ship of Zion.

Get on board.

Mrs. Laura Smalley: I don’t know much of that one. [sings]

I have got my mother going on the ship of Zion.

Get on board little children.

Mrs. Laura Smalley: I can’t get that one together. I don’t know many song. This here late and [also (?)] late song. I don’t know many—

John Henry Faulk: Has church services changed much from the way they used to be?

Mrs. Laura Smalley: Yes, sir. Yes, sir.

John Henry Faulk: How, and how, how have they changed?

Mrs. Laura Smalley: Mhmm.

John Henry Faulk: I say how? How have they—

Mrs. Laura Smalley: They don’t people the people done changed up from singing, you know, and played up from religion and everything, you know that way.

John Henry Faulk: Is that right?

Mrs. Laura Smalley: Yes, sir. Done changed up from the religion and everything that way. I’m trying to get that old, that song, song like, it don’t look like I can’t get it straight. [pause] He ah, well, you done, you knowed this one about been s-s, Saved All Day?

John Henry Faulk: No. I never heard that one. I’d like to hear it. How does it go?

Mrs. Laura Smalley: [sings: Saved All Day]

I’ve been sa-a-a-aved all daaay, no evil have I done.

Been saved all day, no evil have I done.

Been saved all day, no evil have I done.

Sanctified and holy, no evil have I done.

There is a love everybody, no evil have I done.

There is a love everybody-y-y, no evil have I done.

Good Lord, there is love everybody, no evil have I done.

Sanctified and holy, no evil have I done.

John Henry Faulks: [blurts—“Good!” in the middle of the song]

Haven’t lied on nobody, no evil have I done.

Haven’t lied on nobody-y, no evil have I done.

Haven’t lied on nobody, no evil have I done.

Sanctified and holy, no evil have I done.

There’s a love everybody, no evil have I done.

There’s a love everybody, no evil have I done.

Good Lord, there’s a love everybody, no evil have I done

Sanctified and holy, no evil have I done.

John Henry Faulk: Why that’s a good one. Where did you hear that?

Unidentified Woman Interviewer: That’s a good one!

Mrs. Laura Smalley: Oh, we learned that, we had sung that in our church, you know, up here.

John Henry Faulk: Ahha.

Mrs. Laura Smalley: We sung that sometime in our church.

John Henry Faulk: You can, can you remember any that the slaves sung? Could you, could you, or did they ever sing any songs?

Mrs. Laura Smalley: No. Ah, I , you know I never [sang (?)] in slavery, but I heard them sing some after freedom, I know them, some. But I, you know, that was way back some. I can hardly sing none of them. And one of them, I can’t seem to remember. My old stepdaddy used to sing it about the thunderballs rattling and about sinner standing so idol son. Lord, I Got Union In My Soul, I Ain’t Got Long To Stay. Didn’t, I told you that one ain’t I?

John Henry Faulk: [Speaking in concert with the Unidentified Woman Interviewer] Yeah. I’d say that’s a good one to hear.

Unidentified Woman Interviewer: You sang that one for us, that’s a nice one.

John Henry Faulk: [a rooster crows] Your stepdaddy. Stepdaddy.

Mrs. Laura Smalley: Yes, ahha. That old red man. He sung that all the time. [laugh]

John Henry Faulk: Uhmm. Ah, what, what were the preachers like in those days?

Mrs. Laura Smalley: I don’t know, sir. I never remember no preachers [rooster crows] in slavery time. Never remember. Of course, you know, I wouldn’t have been so old, but you I could remember some things. I wasn’t say so old.

John Henry Faulk: Ahha.

Mrs. Laura Smalley: But I could remember some things. But I never remember no preacher. [rooster crows]

Unidentified Woman Interviewer: They never allow them to have preachers, did they?

Mrs. Laura Smalley: I never remember none.

Unidentified Woman Interviewer: Uhmm.

Mrs. Laura Smalley: I never remember none.

Unidentified Woman Interviewer: Just get together and sing and pray, eh?

Mrs. Laura Smalley: That’s all I head, would hear them sing. And you know, night come [rooster crows] I’d go and sleep ??? pretty [soon (?)].

Unidentified Woman Interviewer: Uhmm.

Mrs. Laura Smalley: These most that I sing, these here songs would sing, you know, after, after, you know, I’d be good big girl, you know. We use to go to church. Them arbors, you know, but they never did ah, never know—

John Henry Faulk: Well, they had preachers under the arbors, didn’t they?

Mrs. Laura Smalley: I know one of them. His name—

John Henry Faulk: Who was that?

Mrs. Laura Smalley: Name, name Uncle Mark. I never will forget him.

John Henry Faulk: Was he good?

Mrs. Laura Smalley: Oh, yes. A old man, name, Uncle Mark. He preached. Yes, sir. His name, Uncle Mark.

John Henry Faulk: Was he a good preacher [preacher]?

Mrs. Laura Smalley: Yes, sir. He’s a good preacher. Name, Uncle Mark. And—

Unidentified Woman Interviewer: Preach like they do now?

Mrs. Laura Smalley: Ma’am?

Unidentified Woman Interviewer: Did he preach like they do now?

Mrs. Laura Smalley: They did better. They preached better then, and I reckon, because you see they was ah [dogs barking] then, now they preaches by scripts most of the time. But then, you know, they just preach, preach by the spirit, [rooster crows] you know. Just as—

Unidentified Woman Interviewer: Ahha.

Mrs. Laura Smalley: —the spirit, spirit let them, you know. And ah, they could preach good without a Bible because, you see, they’d, they’d have religion, you know, and ah—

John Henry Faulk: That’s right.

Mrs. Laura Smalley: And, and the Lord’ll teach them, you know.

Unidentified Woman Interviewer: Uhmm.

Mrs. Laura Smalley: Teach them what to say and how to say, you know. That’s what he taught us then. But now you know, they preach us by scripts. You know, they don’t preach by that. [repeat]

That’s something, isn’t it?

If you want to listen to more of these interviews, visit the LOC website at loc.gov and search for “Voices Remembering Slavery.”

It’s important to remember history, right, to look back and see how far we’ve come. And acknowledging Juneteenth on a federal level means more Americans will become familiar with this part of the nation’s history.

Of course, having Juneteenth recognized on a national level doesn’t suddenly end racism and discrimination for Black people. It is a welcomed and important symbolic gesture. But it doesn’t protect voting rights, lift the minimum wage, or challenge violent policing…or does anything for the myriad of other problems Black people and other people of color face in this country.

However, to move forward, we have to be honest about the past — mourn our failures and celebrate our victories. Liberation came late for Black people in Texas, but it came nevertheless. And that’s always a good thing.

As Democratic Rep. Brenda Lawrence told her Republican colleagues: “We have a responsibility to teach every generation of Black and white Americans the pride of a people who have survived, endured and succeeded in these United States of America despite slavery.”

Thanks for tuning into this episode of “News With Nicola,” where we aim to keep things real, relevant, and faithful.

Don’t forget: I want to know what you’re reading, watching, or listening to—which means I want you to email me your thoughts on current events. Tell me what books, movies, music and shows you’ve recently encountered that you love, or think others should desperately avoid. Drop me a line at [email protected] If you sound like you know what you’re talking about, I just might invite you to join me on the show to discuss your views.

This is Nicola A. Menzie, managing editor of faithfullymagazine.com, hoping I’m leaving you informed and inspired. Till next time.

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    Written by Nicola A. Menzie

    Nicola A. Menzie is Managing Editor of Faithfully Magazine. Nicola is a religion reporter in NYC whose bylines have appeared on the websites of the Religion News Service, The Christian Post, CBS News and Vibe magazine. You can find her on Twitter @namenzie. Email: nicola.menzie (at) faithfullymagazine.com.

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