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"Jubilee": article draft by Roosevelt Fitzgerald




1980 (year approximate) to 1995 (year approximate)


From the Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers (MS-01082) -- Drafts for the Las Vegas Sentinel Voice file. On Christmas during the author's youth, and before and after the end of slavery in the U.S.

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man001039. Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers, 1890-1996. MS-01082. Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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The last year that I was in Natchez for the Christmas holidays without having to come back from somewhere else was in 1958. Up until that year I really felt a part of the town. I was in school there, lived there with my family, went to church there and all the rest. I knew a good number of the people there and they knew me. I was at home and I felt right at home.
I remember well the anticipation I had over the question of who would': come home for Christmas that year. As the season got underway and the air was filled with carols, such tunes as "I'll be home for Christmas" and "Home for the Holidays" seemed to stand out. The expectations were probably greater for my schoolmates and I than for others because of the connection between the school and the church. I don't recall if I mentioned before but I attended a Catholic school and a Catholic church and even though one might graduate from the one the other was always in session. Additionally, the Church always had midnight Mass on Christmas Eve and that is when we could see all those who had come back for the holidays.
Midnight Mass at Holy Family Church was quite an experience. Not only did Catholics attend but so did a lot of non^Catholics. It was a friendly church and the people were always friendly. Of all the institutions with which live been associated over a lifetime, with the exception of my family, none comes close to matching the sense of belonging I felt at Holy Family.
I sang in the choir. There was a choir loft in the back of the church. We started singing carols at eleven. I sang two solos that year; "0 Holy Night" and "Little Town of Bethlehem." From up there we could see everyone as they entered the church. Every time I happened to look downstairs there was someone else who had come home for the holidays. The sight of each gave me a good feeling. The reason for that is their presence there was a reaffirmation that we who still lived there had not been forgotten and that those who had
gone away had not gone away to any place where they'd rather be for Christmas that was better than home.
Midnight Mass,back in those days, was a High Mass and it was still in Latin. The rituals were filled with mystery and that only added to the pagentry. There was incense, bells and the conversation, in Latin, between the Altar Boys and the several Priests and the chants between the Priests and the choir transcended time and place. I can almost hear it now.
It rarely snowed--not so much that you'd notice. It got awfully cold. Many times, during that time of year there would be ice storms. In 1958 there was no ice but there was biting cold. We didn't seem to mind it especially following Midnight Mass on Christmas morning. The temperatures would be in the high 20s or low 30s and we would stand outside the church for the longest time talking with friends, as we did each and every year, that we had not seen since the Christmas before. We made plans for the week because the overwhelming number would not leave for another week. Those were good times. Some home from college, the military, other towns where they lived and worked and others from unknown places never spoken about. There were many parties and other social get togethers.
The week went by so swiftly. I guess it is always that way when you're still and school and the resumption of school takes place right after the new year begins. There was another Midnight Mass on New Year's Eve. There were midnight services at all of the other churches also. That was such an important night and in 1958 it had been for 96 years.
Somewhere in Europe, England say, in a town like London in 1862, someone other than Scrooge might have asked someone else if they were free for a holiday dinner. What the reply might have been is unimportant. The question holds center stage. Such a question as that might have been asked at least once somewhere on just about every continent, in every country and maybe even
every town. With all of the practical possibilities and probabilities of
that question being asked, there is at least one country where there was a region,"in 1862, and a group to whom the thought of such a question would never have occurred; the United States, the south and among slaves. Can you imagine one slave asking another "are you free" for anything? If they did it was the beginning--the true beginning--of comedy noir. Still, slaves did celebrate Christmas.
On Christmas eve, slaves would conduct religious activities. They would tell and retell the story of the birth of Christ and they would tell even other stories of His short life and the miracles He performed. They sang song representative of those miracles and they prayed a lot. On most plantations, Christmas morning would begin with the slaves gathering at the big house and the master, mistress and the children would come out to the greeting; "Christmas Give, Christmas Give." The slaves each would be given small tokens of the master's good will. These would range from cookies, sweet meats and trinkets for the children to flasks of plum brandy, bolts of cloth, shoes and other apparrel for the older slaves.
During the week following Christmas, things would return to normal as far as the plantation was concerned. That is, until 1862. It was in 1862 that Lincoln first conceived the notion of emancipating the slaves. He was advised, however, tb postpone it until at least after the Union army had won a significant victory over the Confederacy. Such a victory came at Antietam. It was then decided to make the official announcement on the first day of the year in 1863. That date would become known as Emancipation Day.
Through a grapevine, the slaves learned of the forthcoming announcement and there was a great deal of excitement and anticipation as they awaited the fateful day. Finally it came and all were happy--until they discovered that the Proclamation had little meaning. They had thought, many of them, that the Proclamation itself would automatically end slavery; It did not. It would
be another two years before the end of slavery would come and that would not be until after the Civil War would have been won by the Union and the adoption of the 13th Amendment in 1865.
Once slavery ended, many of the freed slaves were in a state of shock. All, however, were concerned about missing family members who had been sold off. Many left the plantations where they were because they could not contend with the presence of so many things which were filled with so many horrible memories. The majority, however, remeained where they were. Not because they liked it but because while they did not know where to begin to look for missing family members, those same missing family members knew where they might be. There was a hope that those who had been sold off would somehow manage to make their way back to the old plantation and thereby the family would be reunited.
Four million freed slaves waited during the Christmas season of 1865 they waited to see if their long-,lost relatives would come "home" for the