The Rev. John H. Winn persuaded 14 families to leave their homes in Bastrop County and purchase land near the county line, out of the reach of continued attacks from the Ku Klux Klan.
The farmers and business owners thrived on these rolling prairies topped with loamy clay, fertile ground for sprouting oaks, pecans, mesquite and grasses.
It’s here they celebrated Juneteenth that first year in the rural central Texas community of St. John Colony, founded in 1872.
“I’m fascinated by what our forefathers did,” said Louis Simms, 77, a descendant of more than one founder. Simms is also the community’s unofficial genealogist.
After all these years, he’s still amazed by his ancestors’ resolve. Amazed that they maintained faith, belief in God, despite enduring slavery; enjoying a fraction of freedom following the Civil War; building a thriving community in Bastrop County, only to be forced to leave town by white oppressors and start over.
“Because they did, we are here for another Juneteenth,” Simms continued. “I am a Christian, but I don’t know if I could persist like they did.”
On Saturday, descendants of the founding families are scheduled to celebrate 150 years of continued freedom – one of America’s oldest Juneteenth jubilees — on a grassy, 10-acre field behind the St. John Regular Baptist Church, keeping with the tradition of freedom colonies. The celebration is coordinated by the nonprofit organization St. John Juneteenth Body; Marshall Hill is their president.
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SOURCE: Austin American-Statesman, Michael Barnes