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Freedom Rider : A black cowboy plans to join in celebrating 'Juneteenth,'--the day in 1865 that slaves in Texas were freed.

June 13, 1993|VIRGIL GRIFFIN | On June 19, 1865, Gen. Gordon Granger announced the Emancipation Proclamation to the slaves in Texas, two years after slaves were freed elsewhere. Speculation as to the reasons for the delay has ranged from poor communication to landowners wanting to squeeze out more harvests. June 19 became known as "Juneteenth," and has been a Texas state holiday since 1980. The day is a time for celebration among African - Americans nationwide. Virgil Griffin, a deputy assessor for Los Angeles County, is a Texas transplant and horseman. He was interviewed by Donna Mungen. and

I grew up in Caldwell, a little Texas town of about 2,500, which is about 75 miles north of Austin. Pretty much everybody knew you, by name or family. Now there isn't a lot to do in a small town, so Juneteenth was a really big event.

The festivities always included the traditional Texas menu of "red soda water" (strawberry soda), "polly pop" (Kool-Aid), hickory-smoked barbecued chicken and beef, as well as a whole hog, plus watermelon and the local beer like Lone Star and Pearl.

Juneteenth also was a time for our family to reunite.

Juneteenth included an entire week of celebration that would end on the 19th in the Masonic Hall down at the county fairgrounds. We'd have a parade that included the local black business people, educators and students riding in floats and cars. They would be trailed by cowboys who would be decked out in the finest of tailored Western wear outfits--with a Stetson hat and specially cut jeans that fit snugly into their lizard- or ostrich-skin boots.

During the parade, riders would show off prized breeds like the Tennessee walking horse, cow ponies and the gaited horse. The day's activities continued with softball matches, card games of bid whist. In the afternoon, the Miss Juneteenth and Junior Miss Juneteenth contest would take place. Later we'd all feast on the barbecue.

Since everyone fancied themselves as the best barbecue cook, the preparation of food was important. The night before, the men would gather under a cottonwood tree, with its big, broad leaves, where they would season and marinate the meat and then cook it slowly all night. It would definitely be ready the next day by noon.

On the evening of the 19th, there would be the big dance with a deejay at the dance hall. You could find in attendance anyone from ages 1 to 90.

Since it's not possible for me to always get home to Texas for Juneteenth, I find ways to celebrate the day here in L.A.

There are a lot of Texans living here, and with me participating in the Altadena Riders and other riding groups, I find I'm constantly meeting people from home. Whenever you get a few Texas people together, inevitably there is going to be a Juneteenth celebration.

I fancy myself a black cowboy and as I look at our participation in the West, Juneteenth continues to take on increasing significance. As I look back through the history of the black cowboy days during slavery, I see we were used as horse handlers; during the cowboy period one out of every four cowboys was black.

With each year, Juneteenth has given me a chance to look at the truth and understand the contribution we've made and continue to make to this country.

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