Juneteenth Event Explores Race and History Through a Family Lens

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On June 16, F. Sunnie Frazier of Lamar University joined Fordham Law School virtually from her family’s farm for a discussion entitled “Juneteenth & Dies Community, Texas:  A Freedmen Community’s 150-Year Evolution and the Law.” The event was co-sponsored by the Center on Race, Law & Justice.

Similar to Alex Haley’s Roots: The Saga of an American Family, Frazier chronicled the narrative of her family living in a freedmen’s community in east Texas. The community, known as Dies Community, was a farming hamlet of previously enslaved African Americans who congregated, purchased land, and established their own church, school, and community center after Union Army General Gordon Granger proclaimed African Americans’ freedom from slavery in Texas. The Juneteenth holiday celebrates this historic day.

Following the Reconstruction Era, the Frazier family became landowners and successful cotton farmers and maintained entrepreneurial enterprises throughout the challenges of Jim Crow segregation. Frazier, in turn, also shared her family’s experience as leaders in their community addressing voting rights, land acquisition and property rights, education law, and Jim Crow segregation.

F. Sunnie Frazier

Frazier extensively researched her family’s history and story through a comprehensive oral history collection. She has also curated from various, well-known genealogy sources, including the U.S. Federal Slave Narratives, the Whitmeyer Genealogical Library in Tyler County, Texas, the Sam Houston State Regional Library in Liberty, Texas, and the Freedman Bureau Records in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. 

Ten years ago, Frazier revived the Juneteenth celebration in Dies Community with a bi-annual “Historical Walk/Hayride” through the original 2,000+ acre freedmen’s community. Up until the pandemic, selected docents shared pioneer residents’ narratives with their fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-generation descendants with participants passing the plaques denoting the homestead sites of those residents.

Wills and deeds, maps, photographs, and artifacts—such as cotton scales, sacks and other period farm equipment—were also displayed to inform participants about her ancestors’ daily life experiences. Many of these artifacts were displayed digitally prior to Frazier’s talk, offering Fordham Law participants a rare glimpse at a part of history they might not have known.

Watch the entire event here.

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