Whenever “Aunt Julia” Ellis, a 90-year old Harris County ex-slave and 50-year resident of the sawmill ghost town of Josserand, down in the piney woods of Trinity County, alights from a bus a the Greyhound station in Houston, she may appear a bit trifle bewildered at hearing so much noise. She really feels, however, that she is in familiar territory, for it is the very spot where she lived in a makeshift shelter alongside those of a lot of freed colored folks back in 1865.
One of Aunt Julia’s most vivid early memories is of dire stories of Yankees told by elders to her and small playmates, both white and colored, during the Civil War.
“You better be good or the Yankees will get you!” were the words with a familiar ring to Aunt Julia when she was a tiny girl living with her parents on the farm of their owner, Madison Sapp, about 40 miles from Houston.
“Each time.” recalls Aunt Julia, ” we young’uns was out playin’ and hosses’ hoofs was heered a-comin’ down de road. Ole Missis (Mrs. Sapp) would run to de do’, clap her hands, an’ holler, ‘Come heah! Come heah, you young’uns! De Yankees is comin’! De Yankees….!” “An’ we’d all run inside and hide under a big bed, white and colored children all together, and scrooch down, our hearts in our throats, and wait for de Yankees to pass.
But I got to wonderin’ about de Yankees. I was curious to know what one looked lak. So I made up my mind, but I didn’t let on to nobody, dat de nex’ time somebody hollerd ‘Yankees!’ I was not gwine ter hide under de bed, but stay outside and try to see one.
“So one day we chilun was playin’ out in the yard and all of a sudden we heard hosses’ hoofs. It sounded lak a lot of ‘em. Ole Misses ran to de do’ lak always an’ holler, ‘Yankees!’ De Yankees are comin’! Run to de house! Run….!’
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Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in the U.S. State of Texas in 1865. Celebrated on June 19, the term is a portmanteau of June and nineteenth, and is recognized as a state holiday in 31 of the United States. The holiday originated in Galveston, Texas; for more than a century, the state of Texas was the primary home of Juneteenth celebrations.