History Here and Now June 12, 2009
Juneteenth focus of historic home tour
This year’s annual Historic Home and Church Tour, set for Saturday, will spotlight Juneteenth, the oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.
Centered in this celebration will be Handy Chapel, at the corner of Second Street and White Avenue, the oldest church in the city still at its original site. The small, well-kept building has been on the National Registry of Historic Places since 1994.
Proceeds from the tour will go toward restoration of the chapel.
The home tour, sponsored by The Daily Sentinel, will take place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Eight homes, Handy Chapel and the First Church of Christ Scientist will be open. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased in advance by phoning 243-0268 or on the day of the tour at the corner of N. Seventh Street and Ouray Avenue.
Events leading up to Juneteenth began when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862 and it became official on Jan. 1, 1863.
But, in a mystery never solved, the news that slaves had been freed didn’t reach Texas until 2 1/2 years later. Meanwhile, blacks in Texas continued to serve as slaves.
That changed when U. S. Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston on June 19, 1865, and read “General Order No. 3” to Texans.
The order began with: “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”
Freed belatedly, Texas blacks were jubilant and from that beginning evolved Juneteenth, a celebration of black freedom that would gain worldwide recognition. By June 2008, Colorado and 28 other states recognized Juneteenth as either a state holiday or state holiday observance.
Early Grand Junction history shows that in 1883 Mayor Charles F. Shanks and town founder George Crawford deeded four lots for a dollar to the black community to build a church. Records show the church was built by Hunt McDonald and Co. in 1892 for $969.50. That same year Handy Chapel, probably named after the Southern preacher, William Handy, was incorporated as the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Prominent in the early church were William Austin and Elijah Hines, both of whom had arrived in Grand Junction 20 years after the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed. Austin was the great-grandfather of Josephine Dickey, and Hines was the great-grandfather of Harry Butler. Both Mrs. Dickey and Butler, a minister, are longtime members and Handy Chapel supporters, and both currently lead weekly services at the church.
Over many years, Handy Chapel became the center of worship for the black community in Grand Junction as well as a haven for local blacks and those passing through.
When blacks were prohibited from staying at motels and hotels where white people stayed, they could secure lodging at the chapel’s rental apartments or at the parsonage.
In 1979 the church was sold by the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Rocky Mountain Conference, the umbrella organization for the Handy Chapel. Mrs. Dickey contested the sale by taking the umbrella group to court and won. Since that decision, the church has been retained under local control.
The Cultural Diversity Board of Mesa State College is helping Mrs. Dickey and other church members apply for grant money from the Colorado Historical Society. The money would be used for restoration of the church.
Kathy Jordan is retired from The Daily Sentinel and involved in many preservation efforts, including the Avalon Theatre, the railroad depot and the North Seventh Street Historic Residential District.