Sherry Williams on Juneteenth
Hi this is Kelly. This is a special June eighteenth episode of Two broads talking politics. Listen? On June nineteenth, eighteen, sixty, five, nearly two, and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation Union Army General Gordon Granger, formally announced in the city of Galveston Texas that also leaves in Texas were now free. June nineteenth is now known as June eighteenth and has been continuously celebrated since eighteen sixty six as a day of freedom I spoke with Sherry Williams. The founder and president of the Brownsville Historical Society in Chicago about the importance of June team. So I WANNA talk some about June nineteenth, but maybe just to start if you could talk a little bit about yourself, and what the Brownsville Historical Society is and Y, you started. Ranville historical society began as sort of a way to have children who were in the community. Get engaged in some of the I would say a cultural heritage events that had been occurring much all of my entire life I had a family that was wrapped deeply into. How we celebrate and honor the ancestors, and how we honor the elders, and my daughter's shared with her on schoolteacher at that time I would say probably about nineteen ninety seven. And she shared with her her. Teacher in the sixth grade and hey. My mom is always taking our neighbors, kids and her in her door, her sisters as well to events that were happening sort of. traditionally in neighborhoods and many of those traditional community events would be hosted by my mom who was. One of the first, female black DJ's in Chicago so with her having these. Huge Macintosh. Bulb hot when you touch it. If you decided to dare to do that, she would take her her system around. In sort of DJ, impromptu parties. Backyard or in community spaces, churches you name it and these cultural events would be wrapped around the heritage of of cultural practices that blacks had been doing for her lifetime. My mom was born in nineteen, thirty, three and and Burning Mississippi. And, so she share with me just really how she learned the rich history of how? Cultural events were saved around the emancipation around We call it grade decoration bay which Memorial Day. And, so I thought it needs to sort of pass down to my own. Daughter's just pretty much repeating what I had learned through the years from my mom and my grandmother. And one of those events was jolting. I, and although never understood the significance of it, meaning say June the nineteenth. I looked at as cultural celebration is one. Time that I can eat all the watermelon in all of the homemade ice cream. So it didn't matter to me as a child, the heritage or the history around this culturally met, and just knew that this was time that we would see saw many elders in so many cousins and. Would have time to play and just sort of gather around on history and family. I think I was probably in my twenties. When my grandmother's share with me the need for me to escort her to any at at time it would have been Allen Temple Ami Church. which was then the oldest African methodist his church in the city so far structure wise, and they held each new year's. Eve. Watch watch service in the watch service of course was an anticipation of emancipation day, which would be on January first. So. We know massive patient day, January I eighteen sixty three and so my grandmother's church had a long tradition of. Having this watched service replicating what are those enslave men and women a head done? They were anticipating freedom to rise up on New Year's Day of eighteen sixty three, so it took a little while me as a child to really understand these cultural events that were happening and again I was. Very, much adult before really understood the significance of these things that we had kids get dragged into. Tall began to replicate those cultural experiences and. Jens I began deliberately hosting jolting celebrations in Brownsville in about nineteen ninety nine. Yes, I guess. I wasn't the only one who who didn't know the significance of it I. Mean Obviously I. I'm coming to this much much leader. The only been the past few years I think that I had even heard the term June eighteenth and sort of a realized what it was, and of course, a lot of people this year are are hearing about it. More people are talking about making it a a state or federal holiday, and of course there's the. A terrible trump decision to to hold a rally on June eighteenth that was later changed. But now what what do you think we can and should be doing to to teach more people about the significance of the the date, and in how we're the ways the that you celebrated it you know once you know in the in the late nineties when you started. Celebrating and teaching people more about the significance you know wh. What are the celebrations look like? While they're began emergence of more contemporary practices, said the time I started. A hosting events in public spaces. And in the sense of contemporary practices, I would say that we would bring in local drummers, or we would also poor, allied nations and so this African cultural practice where you're actually pouring water or kind of libation on at the same time. You are calling out the names of your ancestors. and not necessarily your chips, they could be ancestors in says that these are a significant people who contributed greatly to trade them into societies soul. You know for instance I could easily call out the name of Gary Tuchman. While, we go in a circle and speak loudly their name speak. Their names to just have an affirmation that recognize these as sisters. Being who we feel. We have a steal of profound connection to today. So imagine that young people would ban have to maybe ask questions about. That I can call out in. Certainly, that's how I learned about my grandmother Great Great Grandmother. Great Great Great Grandmother. Because here was the opportunity for my mom and my grandmother. My aunts to tell me about those who can't compete for me. In so, this would have been a more modern practice in terms. Oh, you know what I've looked at historically that. A practice of pouring libations lane, speaking the names out loud. To a company in June team event has become very very very much on important to how practice jilting celebrations, but you know not to say that we've abandoned that ice cream, making or eating watermelon, or having dancing, or even participating in barbecues, and a remember finally seeing a cousin of mine, who certainly would use the opportunity of having a huge gathering of family and friends and community, and this will be the time she would pedal. The bangs that she made on would be jury or would be. There was the odorant made by one local black company. Called the full of company, and so she would sell items in. Sort of A sense of a maximizing her time near Oslo. She would paddling and earn her some money while we were here for the purpose of June teams, she had an opportunity to a pedal. Her words and and of course there were others would be Aaron so my mom, she would sell Jelly Jam and Chatchai! She later learns to quilt so here. These opportunities to gather round heritage history and celebration would often turn into a festival lace with people bartering in exchanging recipes and sharing horse family stories in histories. in and then a great mind would certainly be part of debt. Whole gathering that communities across Chicago in course knows would be visiting from out of town. Or those who were just reporting back for Hey I visited inverness Berenice. Mississippi and I found out that. One of the. Is is struggling, so you would get inflammation from far and near just being a part of this really really important celebration. Is So one thing I've been thinking as more people sort of think about and discover what June team does, and if it does become. A Federal Holiday Estate Holiday. No Wha- what what might it look like for? For people who are not black to be celebrating June eighteenth, would that be something that's appropriate or not appropriate. How How would you like to make sure that this is a holiday that is is still respected as a cultural practice a without being you know just one more data. People are just off work and barbecuing. You know what what might that look like? Admit to really take a look more deeply as to how many states in America actually recognized June teams as a Holiday Inn. Know that it's upwards of more than shorty. And you know with that sad again. There are many people who all. Know Their state honored June team. As as a holiday in Illinois is one of those states that does honour June. Team does a holiday. It doesn't need to maybe habits visibility raise certainly and the times, and in challenges that we're having about really making certain that. The narrative of how freedom was gained, and and certainly how it's. Not For granted by lots of communities in. Of African descent and think that we need to spend the time. Possibly collaborating with groups that we might Google or and passing, we might see a flyer or something on facebook or twitter where there's a June team event happening in a think, certainly sharing that information widely is the first steps for getting a this Freedom Day. June tank widely understood as being one that has been around since. Eighteen sixty five. SOLIDS Ben Continuum of looking at what freedom means for African communities African Americans in particularly have never not celebrated June team. And saw for communities outside goals of African descent, and think if they took a look and see what states position is if they're state does not. Have June Tiv as a holiday. Certainly we can advocate made certain that as something that's promoted to be a part of the narrative for the United States history. And speaking in terms of significance and importance, but if you are in a state that already recognizes June team as a holiday, maybe lean on our legislators say hey, is there materials or reading materials or educational materials that could be read at home whether it's homeschool, someone who just really wants to get a floor, understanding of of how and why the practice accelerating genting is important so again. Just many people may not understand that this is a practice that. Recognizing June teams as a holiday that has never been abandoned by the African American community. There have been lots of parts of black history that. Are Really not very well taught in schools still certainly not when I was growing up it, but still even now. I think a lot of a lot of people in school gut, this sort of highlights of of history and might hear about you know Rosa. Parks and right Luther King Junior, but then don't hear a whole lot of other stories that are so important. What could we be doing in general through organizations like yours, Brownsville, historical society to make sure that these are parts of our history that are are much better, but much better known much better understood in in ways that could really help us building a better society. I know that in two thousand and twelve I was actually appointed a commissioner for the honest dot commission the State of Illinois. And through that commission, a curriculum was developed. That is free and available for all to experience, so you don't have to be an educator to gone onto the Saddle Museum of African and African American, history website to look for any curriculum from as early as those who three and four years old of course through higher education, so the curriculums certainly give. Families, who may want to say hey, how can I? Really share with my family members is profound history of June team. There are materials that are out there that certainly me, all of the qualifications for. Others in Xilin. Courage teachers to look at those materials breed by the stock mission milloy. To bring those experiences into their classrooms, 'cause often materials did speak about. Freedom and off equality. May Not. Have the materials that speak about how Africans and African Americans celebrate their freedoms. and Saul curriculums are out there off free and open to the public at very well be used and integrated into teaching practices. If teachers find themselves, not having the materials available, they are available for free as a result of Illinois Department of Education. So I think that's one way to consider especially now that we have a shelter in place order, why not take advantage of the tools that are online? Yeah! That's excellent and I can linked to those in our show notes and I hope that people who live in Chicago if they haven't been to the do supple museum when I don't know if they're open right now. What shelter in place? But when they reopened, I hope that people will go there. It's just a really wonderful wonderful museum. Absolutely. So, what do you anticipating this year in celebrations for June eighteen, th you know with both pandemic and shelter in place going on, but also so much going on with black lives matter protests. You know what? What may June teen flick like this year. Well of course we will continue as Brunswick his society. Look at some of the digital platforms where we found out numerous emails. Number of events are going on virtually. And the one that I probably would spend some time with is when it's being hosted by Mount. Appeal Yer Montpellier is the home of president on James Madison in Orange. County Virginia ahead through listening through oral histories trace the number of individuals that my mom and grandmother, and aunts, his share with me more apart or life, and in thirty years later I was able to actually trace our family history to the plantation of Fresno James Madison so I. Am a descendant of enslaved population of Madison's plantation. In so I've just received an invitation to participate in a virtual June team celebration, and I encourage those who listening. Certainly, that's one way to find out which communities that are nearby you especially for myself connecting with the community in Virginia. Here's a great way to find out who might be participating in events when Kobe. Gone that's a great way to save way to what you do. In the future to participate in on a line June team celebration, take a look at some goals virtually vince that are happening and the one at all participate again will be when it's hosted battle by mouth chillier, and I know that they've scheduled a drum call obvious schedule, so storytellers and storytelling is a very important part of June team celebrations. and. I'm almost certain that the also have some singing and dancing as well. Also I encourage anyone who while we're in shelter in place will get some of the virtual celebrations that are happening and I highly recommend those or listening to take a look at now. Players Virtual June team celebration. So rightly a lot of confederate statues have been pulled down recently. What are some historical figures that you would like to see him statues in their places? While I would say if we had done a better job of how history was written. In many history books, some of the challenges we have to find what is truth. Wouldn't be is difficult to find saw often looking at what I call revisionist history. And sometimes I WANNA. Pull my hair. Because I. Read some bangs. Go like okay. That's not really right. For instance, my oldest daughter's forty two years old, and so imagine thirty years plus ago, she brought home her US history books. And, rightfully so Abraham Lincoln hand four pages within a the the page that preceded Abraham Lincoln was all of a paragraph that explains Slavery, and it's impossible to explain slavery in one paragraph. You know four hundred years slaying man? Course Jim Crow and fear and all the other taxes that was used to. Keep those African descent in in bondage and just was furious about the fact that whomever had put together. This US history book left out an opportunity that a could've spoke more broadly about slavery beyond this paragraph saw think that anyone listening in in really all in light of everything. That's going on now. Emerges self in things that are written by black people who have credibility who have high remarks by educators. Have things distributed in the bailable to the public that can be torn apart and reviewed and examined because you know not to say that everything is written as his entire truth. That is time which we. Find ourselves in place is a useful tool for us really taking a look. Deeply at the history of how black blacks in America and slavery has been a written and so much of it is jaded or twisted or omitted or intentionally distorted. I mean I could go on and on, but I'm finding that you know as I've been home. More and more references to. Would say. Pieces that had been looked at you know in historical lands that is more clear than in the past those things becoming more and more available for us, so the information is out there and you know, of course you know. Ask Your friends, so that's why I'm so happy. Yelling at you invited me to speak about the limited knowledge that I have about this fantastic over one hundred. If you're Salvatori met because it takes friends, saying hey, I want to ask those who might participate in things. That I've never experienced. It it has shaped it. And you know for me, just hearing my grandmother in terms of talking about her own truth, and so there are alternatives I guess you would say to what we've heard and much of it is is glaring right at us, so the information is there it just rate we all grass halted truce. If people would like to find out more about the Brownsville historical society, how can they do that? Oh! I would love to hear from everyone certainly taking a look at Brownsville Historical Society Dot wordpress Dot Com. Our website is a portal for you to see the artifacts and documents nobilia that we have in our holdings. we are transitioning to of course using a more tools online to give people just a glimpse of of of what we have in our archives, so in the coming weeks we expect to showcase more than one hundred images out that chronicle those who came during the great migration, so that more than five hundred thousand blacks left the south between nineteen sixteen and in nineteen sixty. So many of them, landing right here in Chicago, so our archives have thousands and thousands of images, those migrants, and most of them were acquired through our aquisition of Jackson funeral home, records, and Jackson funeral home, opened in eighteen, sixty five, and they were the longest and Otis running black funeral business based here in Chicago in close in two thousand eleven, we acquired those records in some are fragmented because of damage in molded things like that, but certainly the one hundred forty thousand plus records that we have that quantum whole the mic race in blacks Chicago. Are Open and available for folks to take a look at so we now have a guest will call it a surname database. Funeral records that we have in our holdings, but we imagine in the coming weeks to put physical images out photographs of. Those that are images of those who are in our holdings in those images date from nineteen, twenty, one into two thousand eleven. So follow our website closely. Excellent well. Sorry, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today I'm always excited to learn more about history. Stockton sudden. That didn't learn this the first time around when I learned American. History but I. But I'm glad to have the chance to now. Oh with they Hubert. Thank you for the invitation and let Freedom Ring. Thank you for listening to two bras. Time politics put of the dim cast podcast network. Our theme song is called. Are you listening off of the album? Elephant shaped trees by the band immune. And we're using it with permission of the band, Our logo, an other original artwork is by matthew wetland and was created for use by this podcast. You can contact us at two broad talking politics at g mail, DOT, com, or on twitter or facebook at two broads talk, you can find all of our episodes at two bras. Talking Politics Dot Com are anywhere podcast or found.