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Juneteenth is a new holiday for many Americans. For my family, it's always been personal

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19.06.2021

The joyous annual celebration of Juneteenth also creates a deep underlying sadness in my gut for what came before Emancipation. Now, more than ever, as crazed white supremacist legislators move to ban teaching this history—history some people are just barely beginning to learn—we must keep telling our stories.

Most Black Americans who are dedicated to diving as deep as we can into our family history will likely run into what genealogists who specialize in African American family research call “the brick wall” of enslavement. Prior to the 1870 Federal census, enslaved Black people were not enumerated. We were property, not people.

For many years, my own genealogical research centered on my direct maternal family history in Virginia, followed by my dad’s Black family in Tennessee and Kansas. I was successful getting back to the late 1700s and early 1800s in some family lines, but it wasn’t until I expanded my searches to the families of my first cousins that I wound up in Texas.

It was then that I hit my “brick wall”—in Galveston.

I’ve covered some of my research successes in other stories, like 2020’s “Juneteenth: We're still on the road to freedom and justice,” but I have not shared many of my thoughts about Texas.

Texas has a strange history when it comes to Black folks and enslavement, as documented here in the “Free Blacks” entry in the Handbook of Texas, from the Texas State Historical Association.

As of 1792 the Black and mulatto population constituted 15 percent of the 2,992 people living in Spanish Texas. Within the Spanish empire, the legal status of free Blacks resembled that of the Indian population. The law required free Blacks to pay tribute, forbade them to carry firearms, and restricted their freedom of movement. In practice Spanish officials ignored such restrictions, often encouraging the manumission of slaves. The small number of Spanish subjects in Texas and the vast distances between settlements also brought about the intermarriage of Whites, Blacks, and Indians. While most free Blacks in Texas before 1800 were born there, thereafter an increased emigration to Texas of free Blacks and some escaped slaves from the southern United States began to take place. After the Mexican War of Independence (1821), the Mexican government offered free Blacks full rights of citizenship, allowing land ownership and other privileges. Mexico accepted free Blacks as equals to White colonists. Favorable........

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