Juneteenth season has already started. It is the oldest celebration of the end of slavery in the United States. The official day for the celebration is Tuesday, June 19th, but California along with states all across America host celebrations all week-long. On June 9th, you could have visited Allensworth State Historic Park and experienced Juneteenth much as I did four years ago at the 100 year anniversary of the founding of Allensworth, CA.
As I think about this Juneteenth, I remember the urgent call that came from the Tulare County Board of Supervisor’s office I received in early September, 2008 that forever changed my understanding of African-American history. The caller asked, “Did you know that the 100 year celebration of the founding of Allensworth is taking place in October, and as the County Office of Education History Consultant, what are you going to do about it anyway? Come over to my office and we will start planning.”
I admit it should have been on my radar, and I honestly had been meaning to go down and visit Allensworth, Tulare County’s only State Historic Park. So now I had just the occasion to visit the park. Saturday, October 11, 2008 was the day they were celebrating the anniversary, so I determined that I would go, camera in hand. That is when and where I learned about Juneteenth.
That year over 4,000 people came from across the state, and even the nation to take part in the founding festivities.
There were important ceremonies.
Choirs from around the state came to perform.
Important guests included a local celebrity and author, Mrs. Alice Royal. She wrote the book, Allensworth, The Freedom Colony, a well told and beautifully illustrated book about the townspeople who built the town from nothing to a thriving town of mostly retired military and their families. It was a town in which African -Americans had the freedom to run their own government, educate their own young, and prove to the world that they were capable of independent productivity. Mrs. Royal was born in her grandparent’s house in Allensworth, and later attended one year of school there. She went on to earn her BS and MS degrees in nursing, and became a school nursing administrator in Oakland, California. She still tells her story across the nation at age 89.
I met a former teacher who taught school in the charming one-room schoolhouse shown at the beginning of this page.
There were booths that taught about everything that one needed to know in the early 1900s such as how to forge horseshoes and other important implements,
and how to make corn husk dolls.
I learned about Buffalo Soldiers who had originally started in the 101st Regiment United States Colored Infantry during the Civil War. For the most part the African-American soldiers were stationed out west. Native Americans saw them and thought their bushy hair made them look like buffalo, and dubbed them “Buffalo Soldiers.”
Many of the guests wandered through the reconstructed town visiting the various buildings. Allensworth is the only place in Tulare County that replicates in its streets and buildings what life was like in the early 1900s. It is like visiting Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown, but moving forward 200-300 years, and 2350 miles west.
Most of the guests that day enjoyed the food and vending booths and the artificial and natural shade, the highlights of Juneteenth celebrations as well. The temperature that October day was easily one degree for every year since the founding of the town.
It was an exciting year because Obama was running was running for President, and the election was less than a month away. Most of the people at this event could hardly contain their excitement and enthusiasm about the upcoming election.
The day wouldn’t have been complete without a military salute from the air.
As expected, in late November a student event, Allensworth Then and Now premiered which allowed students in Tulare County in grades 2-4 to experience some of the excitement and amazement of the growth of this 100 acre Freedom Colony founded in 1908 by Colonel Allen Allensworth, a former slave and retired military officer.