cousins, Armentha Reed Puryear and the late Isaac “Ike” Deberry of Senatobia,
Mississippi, both listened to their grandfather Bill Reed talk about that day
in 1865 when Lemuel Reid stood on this very porch they are standing on and
announced to all who were enslaved on the Reid Place that they were free.
The Reid Place, the old home of Lemuel Reid, near Abbeville, South Carolina, as it stood in 2004.
JUNETEENTH is a special holiday
that commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Galveston, Texas
on June 19, 1865. On that day, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger read General Order
“The people of Texas
are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the
United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of
personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and
the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer
and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present
homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to
collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness
either there or elsewhere.”
celebration of June 19th was coined “Juneteenth” that soon evolved into a national
celebration of the emancipation from chattel slavery in the United States. The
Emancipation Proclamation, with an effective date of January 1, 1863, did not immediately
emancipate most enslaved African Americans in the South, especially in Texas.
often wonder about the day my enslaved ancestors were told that they were free.
How did they feel? What did they do? Did they cry a river of tears? This day was
undoubtedly a dream come true. After Alice
Marie Johnson was recently pardoned after serving over 20 years in prison for a first-time, nonviolent offense, she stated that she performed a “Pentecostal
holy dance” upon hearing the news from Kim Kardashian. I imagine the same type
of jubilation that my enslaved ancestors displayed when they heard, “You are
now free.” What an emotional day that must have been! The only difference here
is that my enslaved ancestors had not been too-long imprisoned for a crime they
committed; they and their ancestors had been held in inhumane yet legal bondage
against their will for over 200 years.
my cousin, the late Isaac “Ike” Deberry Sr. (1914-2009), recalled a special
story that his maternal grandfather – my mother’s paternal grandfather, William
“Bill” Reed (1846-1937) of Senatobia, Mississippi – had shared with the family
about his “Freedom Day.” Cousin Ike had a very close relationship with Grandpa
Bill and remembered many accounts he shared with him. Although Grandpa Bill was
a reserved man, I’m told, he was not tight-lipped about his experiences during
slavery in South Carolina. Cousin Ike voiced so many mouth-dropping stories to
me, that this vast amount of valuable oral history served as the solid
foundation of 150 Years Later: Broken Ties Mended.
listened with excitement as Cousin Ike recalled Grandpa Bill’s “Freedom Day.” He
shared, “Grandpa told me that on the day
they got freed, Lem Reid came out on his porch and called all the slaves up to
the house and said to them, ‘Y’all is as free as I am.’ He asked them to stay
on the place to help him bring in the crop and he promised to pay them. Grandpa
said that they stayed for a lil while and then they decided to follow this man
to Mississippi to make a better living for themselves.”
an earlier recollection, Cousin Ike had shared that an unknown man from
Mississippi came to Abbeville, South Carolina. He saw Grandpa Bill and others taking
a break from working in the field, approached them, and told them that “Mississippi was the land of milk and honey
with fat pigs running around with apples in their mouths.” Cousin Ike humorously
shared, “Hearing that Mississippi had fat
pigs running around with apples in their mouths got them all excited.” Grandpa
Bill, a younger sister Mary, and others packed up their wagons and moved to
near Senatobia, Mississippi around Jan. 1866. (DNA is indicating that another sister, Louvenia, remained in
Abbeville; more later.)
Bill Reed married Sarah Partee-Edwards in 1871, and they had eleven children.
He died on Nov. 30, 1937, at the old age of 91. During the week of his death,
he had been out chopping wood. He lived to see 53 of his 57 grandchildren, as
well as a number of great-grandchildren. Many of those grandchildren and
great-grandchildren listened to his stories while sitting underneath his
sycamore tree. His stories were not forgotten. On July 8, 2004, members of Reed
Family visited Abbeville, South Carolina for the first time. We finally saw
what Grandpa Bill had talked about for many years.
The descendants of Lemuel Reid placed this Welcome sign in their storefront to recognize our return back to Abbeville, South Carolina after 138 years.
Standing on the steps of the Abbeville County Courthouse, July 8, 2004
(All pictures are the property of Melvin Collier.)