Juneteenth

Today is Juneteenth–in fact, the first observance of Juneteenth since President Biden signed the bill marking June 19 as a federal holiday. On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas and read from General Order Number 3:

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.”

General Order Number 3, 1865

This order informed enslaved people in Texas that they, in fact, had been freed. Juneteenth is thus observed as a day of African American emancipation.

Though many of us were not previously aware of the history around Juneteenth, now that it has been formally woven into the fabric of our nation as a whole, it is tempting to simply jump onto a celebratory bandwagon (and worse, for companies to perpetuate capitalism under Juneteenth logos and colors).

I am a United Methodist clergyperson, appointed to serve and lead a congregation. I am also a white woman, and in the intersection of those identities I must caution white people to slow our collective roll. Black educators, activists, and theologians have been all over the internet explaining the importance and impact of this day – listen to them.

Melinda D. Anderson tweeted:

Read that again. “Enslavers in Texas purposely failed to free enslaved ppl and probably never would’ve if a union general hadn’t rode into Texas.” This highlights the ongoing battle we have against the forces, powers and principalities, systems of evil. Even when we work for the good…even when we take steps in its direction…the enemy is there to try and silence the good news.

In Romans 10:14-15a, Paul writes, “So how can they call on someone they don’t have faith in? And how can they have faith in someone they haven’t heard of? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent?” He speaks of course of his own call as he explains his ministry to the church in Rome—a congregation he did not plant and had not met—but his words also convict us of the need to speak lest the Good News be rendered silent.

Jesus calls his followers to follow him into the proclamation of liberation, freedom from slavery and captivity, of joy and jubilee. Look around. Is it so hard to believe that, still today, there are beloved Black children of God who have not heard and cannot believe that they are free–that we are free–by the grace of God? Because we allow the Good News to be pushed out by the loud dissonance of police killings, the economic upheaval and unequal medical impact of the pandemic that has devastated Black communities, the way that as early as preschool, Black children are already set apart to be labeled “problematic,” “troublemakers,” and set up at the entrance of the school to prison pipeline.

Prophets have been sent. We owe it to them and to the Good News within us to listen and to amplify the message. We owe it to our siblings to honor Juneteenth and all it truly stands for, and to learn from the history. We are sent to proclaim liberation. Don’t stay quiet.