by Kisten Thompson
For as long as I can remember I have enjoyed and celebrated Independence Day, July 4. I can remember picnics, fireworks, family gatherings, parades, red, white and blue clothing and streamers…it has all been great fun and filled with so many memories.
But for many, Independence Day has not been seen as a holiday that celebrates freedom. If we remember the history of this country, there were people who were not free…they were not seen as equal…in fact, as the Declaration of Independence was being written, people of African descent were not even seen as fully human. They were regarded as 3/5 a person. Independence Day has not been a day of freedom for all here in this country. Abolitionist Frederick Douglas wrote on July 5, 1852, “What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?” How can someone who is not free celebrate freedom?
This is why Juneteenth is such an important and meaningful holiday. You read in this week’s Herald that while the Emancipation Proclamation declared that all enslaved persons were declared “forever free” on January 1, 1863, it took more than two years for this news to reach Texas. The Civil War ended in April, 1865 but enslaved Texans were not told this news and continued to work for their “owners”. It was not until June 19, 1865 when Union General Gordon Granger came to Galveston and announced, “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free…”
In her children’s book, The Juneteenth Story, Alliah L. Agostini put the news this way: “900 days after the Emancipation Proclamation; 89 years after Independence Day; 339 years after the first enslaved Africans came to the land that is now America…the secret was finally out: Freedom now belongs to enslaved people, too.”
The first Jubilee Day or Emancipation Day festivities were held in Texas, June 19, 1866 and the celebrations continued in Texas and throughout the country, eventually becoming known as Juneteenth in the late 1800’s. While its celebration has ebbed and flowed over the years, it regained popularity and prominence during the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s. With the murder of George Floyd in 2020, Juneteenth was nationally spotlighted as a time of emancipation and calls for true freedom for all. Juneteenth became a federal holiday in 2021.
So why should Christ the King Lutheran Church acknowledge and lift up Juneteenth? Our mission for racial justice is that we commit to combating systemic racism in our congregation and community…that means we need to know the history of those who have been oppressed and hurt by racial systems of injustice. As Maya Angelou wrote, “History despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” And knowing stories of enslavement, emancipation, jubilation and celebration invites us into the work of doing all we can to address and change unjust policies and practices in both society and the church.
We can and will still celebrate July 4 as Independence Day but we also learn about Juneteenth; we rejoice with our Black kin; and we seek ways to grow and embrace freedom for all people. Check out the wonderful library books in our Ramsey County Library system. Tune into PBS for some great programming on Juneteenth. Seek out neighborhood celebrations-I promise, if you search, you will find them. How will you honor, remember and celebrate Juneteenth?
Peace, Kisten Thompson, Racial Justice Team