Susan D. Anderson

A Letter from Author and Historian Susan D. Anderson

Dear Friend of Heyday,

I think of the present moment as a gift. We are passing through a corridor of time from Juneteenth to the Fourth of July. Between one holiday to the next, we can contemplate our country’s history of enslavement, and reflect on the meaning of emancipation. 

As you know, Juneteenth has just been made a federal holiday, and my hope is that this mainstreaming will help lead us to a sharper and more accurate view of the past, specifically, the events that led to the creation of Juneteenth by Black Texans in 1866. We have the myths—and then there are the accurate accounts of the arrival of the US Army to put down the rebellion by white cotton planters still coercing the labor of African Americans after the Civil War ended. 

Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger proclaimed on June 19, 1865 “all slaves are free,” and announced the “absolute equality” between whites and freed people from a balcony in the port of Galveston, the center of white wealth and the Texan cotton trade. His message was aimed—like the bayonets of his infantry, and the weapons of the 25th Corps of US Colored Troops briefly stationed in Galveston—at white enslavers.  It’s said that more than one thousand enslaved people worked in the port, homes, hotels, restaurants, barbershops, and blacksmiths of bustling Galveston. They already knew the Union had defeated the enslavers. “We knowed what was goin’ on in [the war] all the time,” said Felix Haywood, who was freed in Texas. 

Weeks after Granger’s Order Number 3, fifty thousand troops occupied Texas, establishing more than forty outposts across the state. Enslavers were still trafficking human beings, and murdering Black people, 400 on record between 1865 and 1868, hoping to overturn the Emancipation Proclamation in court.

Despite the barrage of violence, Black Texans took their liberation to heart. Some moved away from where they’d been enslaved, buying plots of land, and establishing Black independent towns, more than in any other state. Some put down roots in cities such as Austin, Fort Worth, and Houston. And, one year after Granger’s order, knowing that whites in their state were lynching their people, burning them out of homes and businesses, and glorifying the Confederacy, Black Texans organized festivals, parades, prayers, singing, speeches, barbecues, rodeos, sporting events, banquets, dances and other celebrations of what they called Juneteenth, the day when the world was forced to accept their emancipation. As Mr. Haywood recalled, “We all felt like heroes and nobody had made us that way but ourselves.”

Our beloved California has its own place in the country’s central conflict between slavery and liberty, the cantus firmus of life in the US. And that’s why I’m writing you on behalf of Heyday Books. This is a wonderful time to support the state’s most important nonprofit publisher. Among the titles in its backlist, and in forthcoming titles, Heyday offers volumes that challenge and delight as they lead us on explorations of California’s African American past.

Some of the essential texts for me include the heartbreakingly beautiful photo history of a San Francisco neighborhood and cultural traditions that have nearly disappeared, Harlem of the West: The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era, by Elizabeth Pepin and Lewis Watts. Another work that I’ve consulted many times is The Port Chicago Mutiny, Robert Allen’s significant study of the explosion that killed and maimed Black seamen stationed on a US Navy munitions base in Contra Costa County during WWII, and the seamen’s long fight for justice and against segregated and dangerous work conditions. From the “Fighting for Justice” series, Biddy Mason Speaks Up, a children’s book worthy of any adult’s library, gives a deeply-researched and dramatic 19th century account of an enslaved woman brought to Los Angeles, who wins her freedom and becomes one of the city’s most beloved civic leaders. Finally, I’d like to mention the autobiographical volume by my dear, departed friend, Mrs. Alice Royal, Allensworth: The Freedom Colony, which imparts her observations and stories from growing up in a remarkable Black town in the Central Valley’s Tulare County. Two forthcoming titles I’d like to bring to your attention, Making Revolution: My Life in the Black Panther Party, a memoir by the late Don Cox, Field Marshal of the Oakland-headquartered Black Panther Party. And, if I may, I am pleased to mention the book that I am laboring to complete for Heyday, African Americans and the California Dream, a civic history of Black California from the gold rush to Black Lives Matter.


Susan D. Anderson