DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) — It’s been said that the history of a people can be found in the memories of its elders, and unlocking that rich oral history often begins with just three simple words: “I remember when…”
Mrs. Charlene V. Nix of Dallas needs little prompting.
“Ooohhh! I remember horse and buggy days!” she shares with a graceful laugh. And so much more. “I’m 101! In August, if I make it, I’ll be 102.”
Hers is the lived history that most of us find only in textbooks, and woven into those threads of history is a reverence for Juneteenth.
“My grandfather on my father’s side was nine years old,” she shares, “when the slaves were set free.”
According to Mrs. Nix, ‘back in the day’, Juneteenth was just like Christmas.
“People would bring their best cakes, ya know!” The memories prompting a wide smile. “My mama and other ladies would cook those white coconut cakes… with the coconut in the middle, and the little white flakes and they’d have it all over. That was your really best cake you know!”, she shares with a chuckle.
Mrs. Nix grew up in Kendleton, a small town about 50 miles south of Houston, founded by property-owning freed slaves. The cakes, barbecues, homemade ice cream and picnics celebrated the sweet taste of freedom.
“People would come out from Houston on the train… they would bring them out to the picnic grounds… and then take them back at night.”
The freedom they celebrated was still fresh, and in many ways still fragile.
“Back in those days you still had colored fountains and things we couldn’t do when we went to town,” Nix recalls. Some nearby towns were even more resistant to change. “They didn’t allow black people in that town after night. If you lived in that area… you knew, you tell your children, ‘You don’t be in there at night.'”
Her guiding light through it all, she says, has been her faith. She quotes scripture with the ease and comfort of someone who lives it as well as knows it. And then there’s her large, loving family.
Her wish for future generations is a return to the respect and appreciation for freedom.
“Really take advantage of it,” says Nix. “Being able to go to school and read and learn. Don’t waste what we suffered for, you know?”