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Christmas During Slave Era: A Respite from Bondage or Continued Harsh Reality

In Wilmington, N.C., slaves celebrated ‘Jonkonnu’ a contraction of the name John Kunering. Dressed in costumes, the enslaved people went from house to house singing, dancing, and beating rhythms with rib bones, cow horns, and triangles. A gift was expected at every stop. Not all of Wilmington’s whites appreciated the festivities.

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Enslaved people celebrate Christmas. Photo courtesy of history.com.
Enslaved people celebrate Christmas. Photo courtesy of  history.com.

By Tamara Shiloh

Early accounts from white Southerners describe Christmas as a day of kindness and generosity. But the reality of what took place on December 25 during slavery was complex and, in many cases, dangerous.

In Wilmington, N.C., slaves celebrated ‘Jonkonnu’ a contraction of the name John Kunering. Dressed in costumes, the enslaved people went from house to house singing, dancing, and beating rhythms with rib bones, cow horns, and triangles. A gift was expected at every stop. Not all of Wilmington’s whites appreciated the festivities.

Some enslaved people could rest on the holiday; others were forced to work. Many owners hosted social events requiring the work of house slaves. In parts of the country, slaves were given a yule log to burn in the big house. They were granted rest for the same amount of time the log burned, often until New Year’s Day.

More trusted slaves were granted travel privileges to visit family. Gifts from owners were received including leftover food from plantation events. Slaves were given wine and alcoholic beverages for consumption, but according to a theory held by Frederick Douglass, it was not for holiday cheer.

The effects of alcohol were unknown to many slaves, leading most to overindulge. The drunken state would beckon sleep, halting runaways. Some masters traveled to nearby plantations to visit family; even slave catchers wanted time off. Thus, alcohol served as a method to keep the enslaved “in their places” as Christmas was known as the best time to escape to freedom.

A method used to gather slaves and convince them that bondage was their best option for living “peacefully and safely among the masters” was the showering of gifts. But not all slaves partook in the holiday’s so-called pleasures.

According to Robert E. May, a Purdue University professor of history, slaveowners’ fears of rebellion during the season sometimes led to “preemptive shows of harsh discipline. Their buying and selling of workers didn’t abate during the holidays. Nor did their annual hiring out of enslaved workers, some of whom would be shipped off, away from their families, on New Year’s Day.” This became known as heartbreak day.

In “A Slave’s Adventures Toward Freedom Not a Fiction, but the True Story of a Struggle” written by author Peter Bruner in 1918 recalled a personal Christmastime experience involving his owner: “… he was returning from town and so I thought I would catch his Christmas gift; it was always customary in those days to catch peoples Christmas gifts and they would give you something. Instead of giving me the kind of Christmas present I desired, he took me and threw me in the tan vat and nearly drowned me. Every time I made an attempt to get out, he would kick me back in again until I was almost dead. At last, I came up on the other side and jumped out before he was able to get around there.”

For some, traditions of Christmas were tools for celebration. For others, it was harsh treatment. Overall, most held long memories of the season and relished the moments of respite.

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Activism

COMMENTARY: After Jan. 6, An MLK Day Deadline for Voting Rights and Democracy

This is a dangerous thing that goes beyond mere policy matters. First the Cruzes fall in line. Then the people. Republicans are not shy about what’s next. They want to own our democracy. And they’re willing to get it by going state by state to limit our voting rights and take away our votes.

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Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. Listen to his show on YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter @emilamok at 2pm Pacific M-F. Or on www.amok.com
Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. Listen to his show on YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter @emilamok at 2pm Pacific M-F. Or on www.amok.com

By Emil Guillermo

We all know the images of Jan. 6, 2021. Lawless rioters ransacking the Capitol. Police being tortured and beaten. Members of Congress hiding in fear in the House gallery. The gallows and a noose meant for former Vice President Mike Pence.

We all saw the video images one year after and astonishingly they did nothing to pull our nation together.

Nothing.

They simply confirmed the only thing everyone can agree on.

Our democracy’s in trouble. Real trouble.

We already sensed that after the Civil Rights battles of the 1960s such things as race, policing, and income inequality are still major issues in 2022.

But we’ve got trouble in a different key.

C Major. No sharps or flats. This trouble goes right to the core of our democracy. They’re coming after your vote.

That is, after all, what the Jan. 6 rioters were attempting when they tried to stop the certification of the election.

But now the GOP politicians who may have been behind the Jan. 6 rioters all along, are going legit.

The majority of Republicans, notably California’s Kevin McCarthy, continue to sing the fictional tune “The 2016 Election Was Stolen.”

As if in a song battle, the Democrats counter with the loud truth, “The Election Was Fair. Trump Lost.”

But enough people keep singing the lie as if it’s their battle hymn.

And now they are looking for the ultimate control of any election. Legally. In plain view.

Republicans are taking over or running for top election official posts in key states. State legislatures are proposing laws to limit absentee ballots, mail-in voting and other conveniences. They are putting up obstacles to make voting harder with the hopes of suppressing your vote.

This is why Biden spoke in Georgia this week, saying “I will not yield, I will not flinch in protecting voting rights.”

Let’s hope he’s serious, starting with new voting rights legislation to make election days federal holidays and require federal approval of any state and local election changes.

It may take changing the filibuster law to make sure Republicans can’t block any Democratic reforms, but it must be done. And done now.

That’s why even the family of Martin Luther King Jr. is calling for “no celebration” of MLK Day without the passage of voting rights legislation.

This is how Democrats are talking to Biden.

The Republicans’ post-Jan.6 strategy is simply Orwellian. Where truth and lies are indistinguishable. And Republicans loyal to Trump are dead set on forcing their lies on everyone.

Witness Sen. Ted Cruz last week caught in a moment of truth calling the Jan. 6 rioters “domestic terrorists.” But how quickly he recanted when called on the carpet by Fox’s Tucker Carlson, the Trump Confessor, for all the Republican congregants to see.

Like a loyal Trumper, Cruz knelt, confessed, and did his penance.

It used to be called hypocrisy. Now it’s just called Modern Day Republicanism.

This is a dangerous thing that goes beyond mere policy matters. First the Cruzes fall in line. Then the people. Republicans are not shy about what’s next. They want to own our democracy. And they’re willing to get it by going state by state to limit our voting rights and take away our votes.

That’s even worse than the Jan. 6 rioters’ wildest dreams.

Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. Listen to his show on YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter @emilamok at 2pm Pacific M-F. Or on www.amok.com

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Activism

El Cerrito Hosts 33rd Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Parade and Rally

The celebration is sponsored by its founders, St. Peter CME Church and the El Cerrito Branch of the NAACP, as well as the Human Relations Commission, and the West Contra Costa County Unified School District.

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“Keeping the Dream Alive - Embracing Our New Normals with Faith, Family, and Community,” is the theme for this year’s celebration.
“Keeping the Dream Alive - Embracing Our New Normals with Faith, Family, and Community,” is the theme for this year’s celebration.

By Clifford L. Williams

The City of El Cerrito invites all of its residents and surrounding cities in the Bay Area to join in its 33rd Annual Community Celebration honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., on Monday, Jan. 17, 2022.

“Keeping the Dream Alive – Embracing Our New Normals with Faith, Family, and Community,” is the theme for this year’s celebration.

The celebration is sponsored by its founders, St. Peter CME Church and the El Cerrito Branch of the NAACP, as well as the Human Relations Commission, and the West Contra Costa County Unified School District.

Event chairperson, Patricia Durham said “this peaceful protest began in 1989 on the back streets of El Cerrito because of the City’s refusal to acknowledge King’s birthday as a federal holiday.

“Members of St. Peter Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (CME), the City’s only African-American church, and the El Cerrito Branch of the NAACP, in true Dr. King style, took to the streets. The City eventually came around and acknowledged the peaceful and powerful works of Dr. King.”

Durham added, “El Cerrito’s birthday celebration of MLK is one of the longest-standing parades and rallies in the Bay Area.”

Because of the global pandemic, this is the second year the city will have a car parade because of COVID-19 protocols. Participants will meet at 9 a.m. at the El Cerrito Del Norte BART station (in the parking lot of Key Boulevard & Knott Avenue). At 10 a.m., the parade will caravan down San Pablo Avenue to the El Cerrito Plaza BART station and at 11 a.m., the rally will begin. To ensure everyone enjoys the parade safely, all CDC guidelines will be enforced. Masks and social distancing are required.

“Keeping the dream alive even during a pandemic is a necessity,” said Durham. “We are fighting for our democracy and if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s taught us that we need each other to embrace our new normals of survival.”

“The City is expecting more than 100 cars, so we encourage everyone to decorate your vehicles so that yours stands out the best,” noted Durham. “Entertainment will be provided by the Japanese American Citizen League, The Black Cowboy Association, Ujima Lodge #35, the Mardi Gras Gumbo Band, Mighty High Drill Team, Smooth Illusions Band, and El Cerrito’s Poet Laureate, Ms. Eevelyn Janean Mitchell, among other talents.”

The MC of this illustrious event will be Jeffery Wright, president of the El Cerrito Chamber of Commerce. The event’s keynote speaker is Diana Becton, the first female African American to be elected District Attorney in the history of Contra Costa County.

For more information, contact Patricia Durham at (510) 234-2518.

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Activism

Beautiful Bus Tour of Atlanta Neighborhoods Ends at National Center for Civil and Human Rights

I got to experience what it would have been like sitting at a lunch counter as a Black person and enduring racial slurs just because I asked to be served a cup of coffee. Even though I knew what to expect by sitting at this faux diner counter with headphones on, it was dehumanizing and frightening, to say the least.

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Mural inside the entrance to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Photo by Navdeep K. Jassal.
Mural inside the entrance to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Photo by Navdeep K. Jassal.

By Navdeep K. Jassal, Post News Group Ambassador

In my first week in Atlanta, I took a city bus tour to get better acquainted with the city.

I really noticed how green it is with large trees growing abundantly everywhere.

Besides ‘Sweet Auburn’ Avenue, tour highlights included riding through the Buckhead neighborhood and to see Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s mansion. As many know, Kemp is a Republican who opposes mask mandates and getting vaccinated.

The beauty of this was seeing another mansion across the street with a gigantic mask in the yard, encouraging responsible mask-wearing to protect oneself and their fellow Americans noting it’s patriotic. It was a glorious sight for my eyes and gave me a good chuckle, too!

We drove around Centennial Olympic Park, a 22-acre greenspace that serves as Georgia’s legacy of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. Next to the park is the incredible National Center for Civil and Human Rights which is a museum and cultural institution that connects the U.S. Civil Rights Movement to human rights challenges today.

The National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, Georgia.

The National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, Georgia.

There, I got to experience what it would have been like sitting at a lunch counter as a Black person and enduring racial slurs just because I asked to be served a cup of coffee. Even though I knew what to expect by sitting at this faux diner counter with headphones on, it was dehumanizing and frightening, to say the least.

My co-volunteer at the Food Ministry at First Presbyterian of Oakland and co-Publisher of the Oakland Post, Mrs. Gay Plair Cobb, had shared stories with me about travelling to Atlanta during that era in the 1960s and sitting at these counters, trying to get served and being completely ignored.

In one of the magnificent displays, I read personal stories from some of the original Freedom Riders. I imagined the bravery and courage these college-aged African Americans had to challenge segregation on bus terminals and buses that travelled interstate. This was such a powerful moment in history, that there were buses being set on fire to stop integration from happening!

I perused the personal papers and items of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This collection represents much of Morehouse alumnus Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and work spanning from 1944 to 1968. There was a remarkable multi-media display on his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech made during a rally for Memphis sanitation workers who were striking for better pay. It was one of his most powerful speeches and alluded to the numerous threats on his life and eerily forecasting his death, which occurred the next day.

Prior to visiting Atlanta, I spoke with Mr. Paul Cobb, co-Publisher of the Oakland Post, and he told me about how close he had come to getting a ride from Mrs. Viola Liuzzo one night to get a hot shower and food.

Liuzzo, a white housewife and mother of five from Detroit, felt compelled to take action during these demonstrations and drove down to help in Selma. A few nights later, as she was driving with Leroy Moton, a Black teenager, she was murdered by members of the KKK. Astonishingly, Moton survived because he pretended to be dead when the Klansmen looked into the vehicle. There was a posterboard dedicated to her courage on the walls of the museum.

There was an outstanding temporary exhibit on the Rosenwald schools. Mr. Julius Rosenwald and Mr. Booker T. Washington forged one of the earliest collaborations between Jews and African Americans to create schools throughout the nation for Black children who had no access to publicly funded education.

From 1912 to 1937, the Rosenwald schools program built 4,978 schools for African American children across 15 Southern and border states. Hundreds of thousands of students walked through these doorways. I am one of the many interfaith lay people who believe in the inherent worth and dignity for all. This exhibit made my eyes well up with how great humanity that collaborates for what is right can look.

The museum also covers contemporary issues such as white supremacy, international human trafficking, and LGBTQI policies.

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