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Memories of Juneteenth show meaning of day

By BY SHERILYN SHELTON
June 19, 2014 at 1:19 a.m.

Sherilyn Shelton

These are stories of Juneteenth celebrations, in memory of my grandmothers, Mary Bell Cherry and Florence Harden Prince:

Florence Harden Prince and Perry Prince (my father's parents) had five children: Leoda Barnes, Earl Prince, Earline Wyatt, Christine Williams and Lonnie Prince, all deceased except for Earl, my dad, and Uncle Lonnie, the only uncle I have left on both sides of the family.

Our Juneteenth celebration with my grandmother Florence, better known as Big Mama, and my grandfather, Big Daddy, was always held in Mission Valley on my grandmother's land under the big oak tree. For some reason, Big Mama's cow, Bessie, was always under that tree with us celebrating the day. My last Juneteenth celebration that I really remember was wonderful. There was no barbecue that day. Instead, we had fried chicken and all the trimmings, red soda, watermelon and corn. My grandfather, Big Daddy, was a great barbecue man, but for some reason, he refused to barbecue that year, and Big Mama refused to let anything stop her from celebrating Juneteenth. That's where the fried chicken came in. All the family got together and had a great time. Big Mama used to say all the time, "I'm free. No more shackles. No more shackles." Going to the rodeo was a big Juneteenth activity. It was one of Big Mama's favorite outdoor sports. Big Mama instilled in all her grandchildren the importance of getting a good education.

Mary Bell Cherry and Joe Cherry had six children: Hester Simmons, Levis Cherry, Thomas Cherry, Ella Mae Barefield, Lewis Cherry and Nell Prince, all of whom are deceased.

Growing up on Cannan Hill, I remember how my grandmother used to celebrate Juneteenth under the chinaberry tree. And my Uncle Thomas Cherry played his French horn - nothing but the blues.

My cousin Archie Cherry would just laugh and giggle as he dug the hole and filled it with coals and bricks then laid chicken wire across the top, getting ready to barbecue on the ground. With the barbecue, we all had watermelon, corn and red soda. There was lots of playing dominoes, cards and kickball - just having a good ol' country time.

My grandmother, better known as Mama Mae, always told the story about being free. She, too, said, "No more shackles, no more shackles."

Mama Mae was a faithful member of the Palestine Baptist Church. She always was telling us stories about being free. Just as Harriet Tubman would use songs to express herself, Mama Mae would do the same. One of her favorite hymns was "No more shackles, no more shackles. Oh what a joy to be free."

We used to fight over her homemade flour hoe cakes made in the skillet and fried corn in bacon grease. Mmm, it was so good. She was known for often saying, "When Jesus says yes, no one can say no" and "Treat everybody right." Words to live by. I could just go on and on. I truly miss those days. My goal is to try to have an old-time Juneteenth festival, the way it was celebrated in the old days - because I am free. No more shackles. No more shackles.

January 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, but it wasn't until 1865 that it finally came to Texas. This is what Big Mama is referring to when she says "no more shackles, no more shackles."

Although this is not a song, this is my way of expressing the joy of freedom. Happy Juneteenth.

Sherilyn Shelton is a lifelong resident of the Victoria area. She has worked with children through VISD and is involved with the Black History Steering Committee and Greater Mount Calvary Baptist Church. She has also worked with surrounding counties on different programs with the Black History Steering Committee.

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