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Juneteenth at Comanche Crossing

BLAKE MEXIAy Rev. Bob Uzzel

On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston to read the Emancipation Proclamation and, thus, inform Texas slaves that they were now free. On the same day, the Emancipation Proclamation was read on the Stroud Plantation, home to Limestone County’s largest population of slaves.   The Limestone County city of Mexia was one of the first Texas towns to widely celebrate Juneteenth.  The festivities at Comanche Crossing were the first organized “Juneteenth” celebration to take place in the United States. The establishment of the Limestone County Juneteenth Organization occurred in 1892.  One of the founders was Lee Pinkard, who had sold lemonade at the Old Confederate Reunion Ground of the Joseph E. Johnston Camp #94 of the United Confederate Veterans.  He used the constitution and bylaws of the latter organization as a model for the Juneteenth Organization.  The facility at Comanche Crossing was named for Booker T. Washington, who helped bring Rosenwald Funds to African American schools in Limestone County.  The note for the property was signed on June 14, 1898.  Every year, the weekend nearest to June 19 has been a time of celebration—religious and secular alike–at this site, with thousands of people coming from far and wide to participate in the festivities.

On June 19, 1981—35 years ago—Comanche Crossing was the site of tragedy in the drowning of three black teenagers who were arrested for marijuana possession. The teenagers–Carl Baker, 19, and Anthony Freeman, 18 of Mexia; and Steven Booker, 19, of Dallas, all drowned while being transported in a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department boat with three law enforcement officials across Lake Mexia when the boat capsized. Baker, Freeman, and Booker were arrested by Limestone County Deputy Sheriffs Kenny Elliott and Kenneth Archie and Probation Officer David Drummond.  Elliott and Drummond were white, while Archie was black. Because the Juneteenth celebration had clogged the roads with people, the officers loaded the teenagers in the boat to transport them across Lake Mexia to the police precinct.  Only a few minutes after leaving shore, the boat suddenly capsized. The three officers survived and swam to safety, but the three youths all drowned.  Suspicion instantly surrounded the incident, especially since Baker and Booker were both known for being very good swimmers. The boat was only certified to carry the weight of three people and no life jackets were provided. There were also differing eyewitness accounts about whether the three youths were handcuffed when they were placed inside the boat. The three officers were indicted on charges of criminally negligent homicide, but were ultimately acquitted.

At the time of the tragedy, I was living in Kaufman, where I was serving as pastor of Macedonia AME Church.  I was also working as a social worker at Terrell State Hospital.  My son Rob was exactly one week old at the time.   I wondered if Steven Booker was related to the Booker family of Kaufman, some of who were members of Macedonia.  Later, I had a student at Paul Quinn College in Waco who lived in Groesbeck and knew the three officers.  She reported that all had serious psychological problems as a result of this tragic experience.  This is understandable.

Mexia is a wonderful community and Juneteenth is an important celebration.  It is my prayer that Juneteenth at Comanche Crossing will continue until time shall be no more and that such a tragedy will never be repeated!

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Posted by on Jun 30 2016. Filed under Church news. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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