Local Juneteenth Celebrations
A series of events brought the end to slavery in Texas, beginning when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Proclamation of Emancipation on January 1, 1863. Then came the the last battle of the Civil War on May 12-13, 1865 and the General Order No. 3 delivered on June 19, 1865 in Galveston to the enslaved people of Texas. Yet, the discrimination and subjugation of Black Texans and African-Americans continued in the former Confederate state. In the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, people of African descent endured the lasting effects of racism. Nowadays it is against the law to discriminate against people on the basis of color, race or religion and public schools are integrated.
Between 1904 and 1906, the completion of the railroad in Brownsville brought myriad changes to the Rio Grande Valley. The railroad ran from Brownsville to Corpus Christi and many people from all over the United States arrived to settle in the Valley. As a result, many towns began growing along the railroad, leading to the growth of the agriculture and other supporting businesses. Prosperous families recruited African-American domestic workers to “take care of things”, such as cooking, cleaning, even taking care of their children (West, (n.d.)).
An important African-American family and one of the first Black families to settle in Edinburg, Texas, was the West Family. In 1930, Vernon and Maggie West moved to the valley with their five children. Upon arriving they helped establish the E. W. Norman School behind the Lily on the Valley church on 19th and Van Week in Edinburg. Reverend Norman was the pastor of the church and with two other black families the school was named after them. The school served for African-Americans who were not allowed to serve in public schools due to segregation. In 1936, the school became part of the Edinburg district and was renamed the George Washington Carver School, which served 1st through 8th grade students. In September of 1942, a Black high school was opened in McAllen (West, (n.d.)).
Historically, the African-American and Black American communities of Edinburg consisted of hundreds of people as well as their businesses, including cafes, taxi stands, beauty and barber shops, laundries, and more. Today only a few families remain along with Rising Baptist Church, Lily of the Valley Baptist Church and the Restlawn Cemetery. A Texas Historical Commission plaque is displayed in the Restlawn Cemetery the property is believed to be the only graveyard in the Hidalgo County dedicated for African-American Burials.
Every Juneteenth in the valley since 1998, the day is used to commemorate the day with songs, prayer and words remembering the struggle and the contributions of black around the world while honoring the legacy of those Africans who contributed to the valley (Villalon, 1999). For instance, acknowledging important services rendered by the members of the African-American Community, Restlawn Cemetery, and the educational contributions of The George Washington Carver and E. W Norman Schools. Overall, the purpose of this day is to ensure people of all colors are equally recognized.
Aleyda Pena, Gabrielle Flores, Lindsey Skalitsky, and Jessica Gomez