Athens — It was June 19, 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln. A ship pulled into the Galveston port and Major Gen. Gordon Granger reads Orders, No. 3 to the people of Galveston.
“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, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freed men are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
With the reading of this order, slavery was ended in Texas, and Juneteenth was created.
Juneteenth is just one of the rich histories among the African-American community in Texas. June 19, now known across the state of Texas as Juneteenth, is the official emancipation of slavery in Texas.
February is Black History Month. According to the Library of Congress in 1925, Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson announced a Negro History Week in February. That week was expanded to a month in 1976 by President Gerald Ford. Every President since Ford has proclaimed February Black History Month.
Sometimes missing from Texas History is the role the black cowboys played in shaping Texas.
The Texas Historical Association website says “Black cowboys have been part of Texas history since the early-nineteenth century, when they first worked on ranches throughout the state. A good many of the first black cowboys were born into slavery, but later found a better life on the open range, where they experienced less open discrimination than in the city. After the Civil War many were employed as horse-breakers and for other tasks, but few of them became ranch foremen or managers. Some black cowboys took up careers as rodeo performers, or were hired as federal peace officers in Indian Territory. Others ultimately owned their own farms and ranches, while a few who followed the lure of the Wild West became gunfighters and outlaws.”
Texas bullrider Myrtis Dightman was the first black cowboy to be inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, National Cowboys of Color Museum and Hall of Fame, the Professional Bull Riders Ring of Honor and the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame.
Bob Bowman, an author who writes about East Texas history, said “Dightman endured insults and prejudice as a black bull rider, but he made the nation take notice when he finished eighth in the world standing of bull riders.”
The Barker Cemetery, named as a historical sight in 1997, will hold the first Athens' Juneteenth Black Rodeo. The Rodeo to be held on June 16, 2012 at Athens Rodeo Arena which will benefit the upkeep of the cemetery.
Larry West, Chairperson of the Rodeo, said “The Athens Economical Development Corporation has agreed to be a sponsor. The group needs more sponsors to put on an event of this magnitude.”
West also said “They expect to celebrate Juneteenth with entertainment.”
There are sponsorships from $500 to $3,000. All donations will be accepted. Anyone wanting to be a sponsor for the First Juneteenth Black Rodeo in Athens should contact West at 903-681-5411 or Jeff Enoch, 903-275-9468.