University Documents 500 Years of Black History in Texas

In exploring the origins of Juneteenth, Hurd knows there's pain.

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You've probably heard this before - "know your history, know yourself."

For African-Americans, that history in Texas stretches back more than five centuries.

Back in 1999, state lawmakers created The Texas Institute for the Preservation of History & Culture with special emphasis on African-American Texans.

It’s housed at Prairie View A&M, and Michael Hurd is the director.

Hurd spent decades as a sports journalist at the Austin American-Statesman and USA Today. He joined the institute in 2015 and is now tasked with digitally documenting 500 years of Black history in Texas.

Michael Hurd, director of the Texas Institute for the Preservation of History and Culture at Prairie View A&M University, explains the roots of Juneteenth. NBC 5’s Deborah Ferguson reports.

“In high school in the '60s, we didn't get a lot of Black history. So, most of what I know about Black history has been self-taught,” he said. “Black history was not a part of the curriculum. What we learned back then was there was slavery, there was emancipation and here we are. There was no context or in-depth explanation at all, and that was really about it.”

Hurd got educated doing research for his book, "Black College Football, 1892-1992."

“I kept coming across all these items in Black newspapers, and it was like I had, 'Why don't I know these moments?’" he told NBC 5.

The research about sports brought him to an important day in history – June 19, Juneteenth.

In the June issue of Texas Highways, Hurd wrote about the family picnics on Juneteenth he remembers as a child and the history he later learned as an adult about June 19, 1865, when enslaved African Americans in Texas finally learned they were free two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

“One of the things I’ve been fascinated at and learning in my research is that it wasn't as simple as 'slaves are free,'” he said.

The article describes a military strategy behind the Emancipation Proclamation and why freedom for Texas slaves took so long.

In exploring the origins of Juneteenth, Hurd knows there's pain.

“Still within this state, there are a lot of people who have no idea about Juneteenth, and there's still a lot of people who ask the question ’What is Juneteenth? What is that about?’ And in some aspects of the African American community, I get asked a lot by African American people, in the course of doing my research, ‘Why do you wanna talk about that?’” he said. “You know there still is a shame about slavery and that we had to endure that or that we were subjected or had to go through that. So, there was a shame about slavery just throughout the Black community. So, a lot of people just didn't want to, didn't want to talk about that history and still don't want to talk about that history, you know, Black and white.”

Like so many watching the unrest happening now and the diversity in those demanding equity and justice, Hurd has hope that what we get out of this is a desire to look at Black history through the lens of appreciation, understanding and in seeing the past, we get to a better future.

“By studying the history, I think you appreciate and you learn well this is why this is still happening, why this is still ongoing,” he said. “So I'm helping people all as a result of all of it's going on, will take some time to start digging into history and appreciating the culture."

In his piece for Texas Highways, Hurd admitted that he “wasn’t jolted awake about Juneteenth until I was well into my 30s.”

“I talk about in the piece, how when I was a kid growing up, Juneteenth was the day for our picnic, you know, for our family and other family and friends would go out to this area, which I recall was Prairie View, ironically. And, we would come out here to this Black farmer's property and we would spend the day celebrating Juneteenth,” he said. “So, it was fun to write about that and to remember a lot of those stories and just stop and reflect again, as I do every year, well I do a lot because of my research, just reflecting on the importance of the day and what African-American slaves had to go through and to remember the sacrifices that were made for us to be where we are today.”

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