When I woke up this morning, I felt obligated and compelled to send a message out regarding Juneteenth. While talking to an elderly gentleman on yesterday, he made the statement that he had never heard the word Juneteenth, nor did he Know anything about June 19th being a holiday. To him, Monday, June 19, 2023 was just another day. I began to wonder how many other African Americans and people in general have never heard or read the history of Juneteenth. Take time today to quiz your family about this annual holiday. If there is limited knowledge, do some research and share information with your relatives, friends and foes.
If we as a people do not share our history, many of our children and grandchildren will not have knowledge regarding the contributions African Americans have made to this great nation. There are states that are already passing laws that would prohibit our history being taught in schools. Texas and Florida, two Republican dominated states are proponents of such policies. There are legislators who believe Black and diverse history are not a valuable part of the U.S. educational curriculum. May I remind all of us that the aforementioned states are not the only ones out to disregard Black history. There are 23 states that have either banned critical race theory or are in the process of doing so. My point is simply that we cannot afford to let our history go untold and forgotten. African Americans have made too many sacrifices and contributions to the growth of America and its economy.
There are lots of folk who believe or thought that slavery was abolished when the Civil War ended. Unfortunately, that was not the case. President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. The proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states are and henceforward shall be free. It is important for all of us to know that it was two years later that some enslaved people were freed. There were slave owners in remote areas who decided to hold onto their slaves for another season or two to bring in the crops. It has been recorded that many African Americans were killed after the Civil War because they attempted to leave the plantations.
It was on June 19, 1865 when 2000 Union soldiers arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas with news that the Civil War was over and slavery in the United States had been abolished. The army announced to more than 250,000 enslaved blacks in the state that they were free by executive order. This became the day that we now refer to as “Juneteenth.”
Just imagine how difficult it must have been for an enslaved people to find out that they are free, yet there is nowhere to go. How do you start with absolutely nothing. It is recorded that some emancipated slaves fled from the plantations of their owners, while others became wage laborers for their former owners. What was of most importance was the fact that former enslaved African Americans had choices. Sadly, many of us are still waiting for our 40 acres and a mule.
There were many cases where freed slaves were oppressed and forced to remain on plantations. Despite the fact that the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed, many of the former slaves ended up working for the same land owners after liberation.
It was only in 2021 that President Joe Biden signed a bill passed by Congress to designate Juneteenth, or June 19th as a federal holiday.
This message does not afford me the opportunity to delve too deeply into how Christians use the Bible to justify their actions relative to slavery. It is always interesting to see how we compromise the word of God so that our own agendas are satisfied.
One of the reasons we should celebrate Juneteenth is summarized in the words of Rev. Jackie Hawkins: “The celebration of Juneteenth matters, because our country cannot afford to repeat its past “sins” that generated beliefs, policies, and systems that were and are discriminatory, immoral, and inhumane.”
Now here is the test. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in A Gift of Love: “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.”
There is so much more to be said about Juneteenth, but I close with this passage of scripture: “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
Hopefully and prayerfully as President Joe Biden puts it: “Juneteenth has caused us to choose love over hate, unity over disunity, and progress over retreat.”
Just my thoughts!
Robert Earl Slade, Pastor