According to a 19th Century book found online, Juneteenth — the African-American observance commemorating emancipation — had its origins in the National Conference of Colored Men held in Nashville in May 1879. Among the representatives in that assemblage were several men with connections to Trinity School.
Although the group entertained motions on various dates for the holiday, including William Hooper Councill’s proposal that it be held on Jan. 1, the group accepted B.F. Williams’s suggestion of June 19 when he explained the reasoning behind his choice. The colored people of Texas — the last group to be emancipated — were finally free on that date, he said, and freedom is not freedom until all are free. Williams’s resolution was the inspiration for the nationwide observance known today as Juneteenth
The North Alabama delegation to the conference included two former students of Trinity, P.J. Crenshaw and J.H. Thomason. Thomason was a member of Trinity School Society, which contracted with the American Missionary Association to make brick for the new Trinity School after the Richardson home in which it had been meeting was condemned. Both Thomason and Crenshaw were community leaders and active in politics. Crenshaw was elected chairman of Limestone County’s Republican Party in 1878.
Another North Alabama delegate besides Councill, a distinguished educator in Huntsville who regularly collaborated with Trinity founder Mary Fletcher Wells in offering teachers’ institutes for Limestone County’s African-American teachers, was H.V. Cashin, a friend of Fisk Jubilee Singer Patti Malone and a member of the Alabama Legislature during Reconstruction.
Yet another delegate with ties to Trinity was its former pastor, L.A. Roberts, most recently a resident of Grand Junction, Tenn. Roberts, a Union soldier who had lost an arm in the Battle of Nashville and a graduate of Fisk, was the first pastor hired by the AMA to lead Trinity Congregational Church.
According to the book, Proceedings of the National Conference of Colored Men, 1878, other issues under discussion included Negro emigration to Kansas; a preference for integrated schools, but in the case of dual school systems, the employment of black teachers to teach black students; the encouragement of black-owned presses in Southern states; and the institution of the American Protective Society to Prevent Injustice to Colored People to protect civil and political rights.
Charlotte Fulton is formerly a feature writer for The News Courier. The preceding article is based on research for a book she is writing on the history of Trinity School, with proceeds going toward the preservation of the Fort Henderson/Trinity School Complex.