San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

June 23rd, 2009
Juneteenth recalls freeing of Texas slaves

San Marcos Councilmember Chris Jones serves up food at the Juneteenth celebration during the weekend. Photos by Sean Batura.

By SEAN BATURA
News Reporter

As the U.S. Senate passed a resolution apologizing for the enslavement and racial segregation of African-Americans, San Marcos residents and out-of-towners gathered at City Park and elsewhere last weekend to commemorate the 144th anniversary of Union General Gordon Granger’s arrival in Texas and his subsequent enforcement of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in the state.

Though the celebration of Juneteenth originated in and was long confined to Texas, at least 30 states have since granted the holiday official recognition.

The 15th annual Juneteenth BBQ Charity Cook-Off in San Marcos spanned Friday and Saturday, featuring live music, a parade, a car show, and cook-offs in the categories of fajita, beans, chicken, baby back ribs, cook’s choice, fruit cobbler and brisket. Proceeds of the annual cook-off will be used to fund local nonprofit organizations and scholarships for San Marcos High School students.

Bruce Banks and the LA Blues Band performed at City Park on Saturday. Banks said while ancestors on his mother’s side of the family were emancipated and compensated with property after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, his father’s ancestors suffered until federal troops arrived to capture Texas two months after the American Civil War and two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

“The significance for me playing at Juneteenth is, I get to come home,” said Banks. “I just got back from New Orleans and Galveston from doing other things, and I stopped everything I was doing, left my friends, and got on a bus to get here…because (Juneteenth) is a celebration of freedom. And now it’s spread from Texas to Mississippi, to Alabama, to Florida, and New York even has a Juneteenth parade. It has nothing to do with New York. It was only when the Texas slaves found they were free. People came to the fields and pulled them off and said, ‘You don’t do this anymore.'”

Activities sponsored by the Dunbar Heritage Association last Friday included a BBQ lunch, kids games, a soul food and peach cobbler cook-off, a talent show, and tournaments in basketball, dominoes and spades. Saturday, the Juneteenth Cake Auction Committee held its cake auction at the San Marcos Activities center, and the Pride of San Marcos Masonic Lodge #494 sponsored a Juneteenth History Banquet at Embassy Suites Hotel Saturday evening.

Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle) judged fajitas at City Park Saturday. That evening, drink in hand, Barton recalled events from the early 1970s, when he said the Democratic Party in Hays County was “split wide open” over racial issues. Barton said Democrats resistant to racial integration clashed with others who called themselves “Independent Democrats.”

“My dad (Bob Barton) was a part of that (latter) group,” Barton said. “There were bomb threats, there was one night there were a cross burned in a couple yards in San Marcos, our’s being one of them. There was a school boycott right about that same time where people walked out of schools and stayed home. It was over some dress code issues and some other things but it came down largely to a matter of — a lot of the underlying cause was some racial and ethnic tension.”

Barton said after Democrats elected the first Hispanic person to the Precinct 2 commissioner’s office in 1982, the white incumbent who lost fired the precinct’s road workers, who were all Hispanic, before he left office. He then changed parties, becoming a Republican, and his daughter, Susie Carter, beat Barton to unseat him from the commissioner’s office in 1998. Barter defeated Carter to regain the office in 2006.

“In the 1920s, one of the largest (Klu Klux) Klan marches in the state occurred right here in San Marcos,” Barton said. “There were thousands of hooded Klansmen who marched through San Marcos in my grandparents’ time … I talked about my parents, but what we were doing was nothing compared to the people who were living in the minority community. And here we are really in a different time, where there are still issues of class equity and there’s issues, certainly, of discrimination, but we ought to celebrate the progress we’ve made, because it seems to me that it’s remarkable, and that for the most part now, we’ve learned to value each other much more for what’s on the inside instead of what’s on the outside. It’s not perfect, but it is an amazing journey, and this year epitomizes that, I think.”

According to the federal government, whites amounted to 55.2 percent of the population of San Marcos in 2000. Hispanics made up 36.5 percent of the city’s population and Blacks comprised 5.5 percent of residents.

The City of San Marcos conducted a community outreach survey in 2006. Of those residents who indicated agreement or strong agreement with the survey’s statement, “Overall, I am satisfied with the information I receive from the City of San Marcos,” 77.4 percent were white and 76.9 percent were minorities. Of those residents who indicated agreement or strong agreement with the survey’s statement, “I am satisfied with my level of involvement with City government,” 72.6 percent were white and 60.5 were minorities. Of those residents who indicated agreement or strong agreement with the survey’s statement, “I believe I am adequately represented in City government,” 58 percent were white and 57.1 percent were minorities. Of those residents who indicated agreement or strong agreement with the survey’s statement, “I believe I have good access to City government and services,” 78.8 percent were white and 74.4 percent were minorities. According to the survey, minority residents place a “significantly higher importance” on providing affordable housing…than does the white population.”

Non-white residents ranked “beautification of the city” at fourth place among a list of city priorities, while white residents ranked the item at 11th place. Non-white residents ranked “police/crime prevention” at 6th, while white residents ranked the item at 9th. Non-white residents ranked “traffic” at 11th, while white residents ranked the item second. Both white and non-white residents placed “economic growth and business opportunities” first among a list of the city’s priorities.

The Juneteenth BBQ Charity Cook-Off originated from and is maintained by Hays County Precinct 1 Constable David Peterson, an African-American.

“We had 37 teams compared to 21 last year,” Peterson said. “Everybody’s barbecue was good. We had lots of good new winners, we had lots of different families and friends come because it’s a Father’s Day Weekend. And that even made it better. We’ve got the river here, which the kids can come and swim. They can bring their Winnebagos or travel trailers or campers and tents, and they can have a lot of fun. That’s what it’s all about — keeping everything in San Marcos, and keeping it amongst the non-profits and the profits this year without going out of town.”

Peterson said Sac-N-Pac Stores and Budweiser helped sponsor the cook-off. Other sponsors included the Boys & Girls Club of South Central Texas, Hays-Caldwell Women’s Center, the Greater San Marcos Youth Shelter and the City of San Marcos through its Minority Tourism Development Board.

“Juneteenth means freedom to me,” Peterson said. “It’s a freedom of the people, feeling a good spirit in their heart, to come out and cook and share their food, share their history, share their thoughts, a gathering of families, of history.”

Hays County Sheriff Tommy Ratliff said he first became involved in the Juneteenth BBQ Charity Cook-off in 1997, when he was a Texas Ranger. He was a cook-off judge and a pit judge this year.

“(Juneteenth is) something that’s really important in our society today, to let people know we care about them, about what happened to them in the past,” Ratliff said. “And we’re going to try to make them more at home in the future and honor them.”

San Marcos City Councilmember Chris Jones said he has been involved in the annual Juneteenth cook-off for three of its years.

“I built the website that everyone posts all of their events on,” Jones said. “We have different organizations doing different things, so I try and bring all of that on one website to try and publicize that.”

Jones, the only African American on the city council, said Juneteenth affords residents the opportunity to reflect on the extent to which race relations have improved and to “plot our course for the future.” Jones said San Marcos residents of all ethnic backgrounds can find common ground in the things that make the city special, such as the San Marcos River, Texas State University and the city’s parks and open spaces.

“San Marcos is a great city, and the citizens — we always work hard and work together to try to overcome some of the challenges that we face,” Jones said. “Even as it relates to race relations, I think that it is important to note how many people of all races work hard to try to get people to see folks for the content of their character, not the color of their skin.”

With his LA Blues Band, Bruce Banks returned to Texas during the weekend just for Juneteenth,

City Park during Juneteenth.

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