This post on Juneteenth is authored by Bryan Drewry, co-founder of Bexley Minority Parent Alliance, BMPA Executive Board member, Bexley resident, and husband and father of Bexley alumni. Bexley will be hosting their inaugural Juneteenth celebration from 12-5 p.m. on Saturday, June 19, 2021 at St. Charles Preparatory School, 2010 E. Broad St., Bexley, OH 43209 (*NEW* location) — more details can be found on the City of Bexley website.
Recently, my friend, Courtney Baker, wrote a powerful essay about Juneteenth and what the day meant to her and her family. While I cannot begin to eloquently summarize the beautiful message she shared, it got me thinking about my own journey to understand what Juneteenth means to me.
My first experience with Juneteenth was the festival held in the 1990s on Long St in Columbus. A few friends would go there and we’d have a great time while also learning about the history of Juneteenth. It was a party with a purpose. This event provided me with new information about the American history that was not taught in school.
This got me thinking about my own history and the research my mother completed on our family genealogy. Part of our journey includes a slave owner, John Randolph, who was a Russian Foreign Minister for President Jackson. His cousin, Thomas Jefferson, was his mentor. Before Randolph died in 1833, he purchased 2,200 acres in Mercer County, Ohio and gave each of the people he had enslaved their freedom and 10 acres of land. However, when the freed slaves got to New Berman, the white settlers refused to allow them to settle in their land. The local government leaders supported the white squatters by passing laws which said that blacks must move out of the county or action would be taken against them. The Randolph group moved to Rossville, near Piqua, with the help of some Quakers.
These individuals were never technically free. They made John Randolph wealthy and then when they were freed, they were robbed of their land and future opportunities.
One of these freed people was my 4x great grandmother, Dinah Cox. She was mother to 14 children and “Aunt Dinah” to others in the community. She continued her legal battle to restore her land until her death in 1907 even when she was mostly blind. Unfortunately, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that too much time had passed to support their claim.
When I think about Juneteenth the word that comes to mind is freeish. The Randall descendants were free from slavery but not free to live their lives as full American citizens. While the distance from Mercer County, Ohio to Galveston, Texas is 1200 miles, my ancestors’ stories are bonded to the stories of those who first learned of their “freedom” on Juneteenth.
That is why I choose to celebrate Juneteenth.
– Bryan Drewry, Descendent of Dinah Cox