Yesterday, June 19, was Juneteenth in Texas, a day when the grandchildren and great-grandchildren and other descendants of African-American slaves remember President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. I spent the day in Neylandville, which is very possibly the only remaining all-black community in Texas. Founded by Jim Brigham, a former slave who bought his freedom from Robert Neyland, the town once boasted a post office, a railroad and St. Paul’s School, one of only a few black schools offering vocational courses in the 1940s. In 1954 the population was 200 souls. By 2000, they numbered only 56.
I met Mr. Lee in his driveway. I had only stopped to ask for directions, but we ended up talking for 30 minutes. (By the way, this is typical of East Texas neighborliness– total strangers will stop and talk like they were old friends.) Mr. Lee was born and raised in Neylandville. He is 82 and still drives his tractor, hauling hay and tending to his horses and cattle. When I expressed amazement that a man of his age is working so hard in the heat, he laughed and said, “My wife gets on to me about it.”