Juneteenth – A Day of Celebration, Reflection and Repentance

May 28, 2024 | #Stories

 “I have been enslaved, yet my spirit is unbound.
I have been cast aside, but I sparkle in the darkness
I have been slain, but live on in the river of history.”
Pauli Murray

Most Americans know that the Juneteenth federal holiday commemorates June 19,1865 when the 250,000 slaves in Galveston, Texas finally learned they were free.  General Order No. 3 stated:

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 personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves . . [1]

General Order 3 enacted the provisions of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Lincoln on January 1, 1863, two and a half years earlier and stated:

That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom[2]

President Lincoln felt that the Emancipation Proclamation was an act of Justice and concluded the Proclamation with the following:

And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.[3]

Although Congress officially abolished the institution of slavery with the passage of the 13thAmendment in December 1865, enslavement of African American in a new form continued, particularly in the South, when former slave owners refused to pay slaves wages and forced former slaves off their land leaving them without food, shelter or wages or forced them into sharecropping or other forms of servitude.  Erin Stewart Mauldin, a professor of history at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg observes that “though slavery ends, the conditions for many changed very little initially.”[4]

In 1866, many formerly enslaved African American started to celebrate June 19th as Jubilee Day in Texas, California and many southern states.  As the harsh realities and disillusionment of a post-slavery era of Jim Crow and Reconstruction made clear that freedom still had been obtained, the Juneteenth celebration started to wane.  Noted historian John Hope Franklin stated in an article about Emancipation Proclamation – An Act of Justice that “It was also clear that neither the Reconstruction amendments nor the legislation and Executive orders of subsequent years had propelled African Americans much closer to real freedom and true equality.  The physical violence, the wholesale disfranchisement, and the widespread degradation of blacks in every conceivable form merely demonstrated the resourcefulness and creativity of those white Americans who were determined to deny basic constitutional rights to their black brothers.”[5]

During the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, there was a revival of the Juneteenth Celebrations as work to achieve true freedom, equality and inclusion progressed.  In 1963 then Vice President Lydon B Johnson spoke about the need for progress when he said “Until justice is blind, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men’s skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact.” [6]  This sentiment was also echoed by John Hope Franklin when he stated that “the law itself is no longer an obstruction to justice and equality, but it is the people who live under the law who are themselves an obvious obstruction to justice. One can only hope that sooner rather than later we can all find the courage to live under the spirit of the Emancipation Proclamation and under the laws that flowed from its inspiration.”[7]

 

Why A Juneteenth Federal Holiday

I think Juneteenth tells a wonderful story.  It’s a story of freedom.  It happened two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, but it still set a pathway of freedom. Who are we as a nation, if you’re frightened about freedom and liberation and joy?
U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas)

 Many may wonder why we need a federal holiday to celebrate and reflect on the abolishment of slavery and African Americans being freed when the concept of enslaving a human being in the United States seems so foreign and a long-prohibited practices.  Many people think of slavery as a horrific part of history that ended in the nineteenth century.

However, not as many people know that slavery, especially against African American and people of color, has continued under many different forms after the 13th amendment was enacted and remnants of slavery persist in society today.  There is also a misconception that everyone in America enjoys freedom.

In 2012 the U.S. Department of State leveraged the Juneteenth holiday to release its Trafficking in Persons Report.  Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted “Today we are celebrating what’s called ‘Juneteenth’ … But the end of legal slavery in the United States, and in other countries around the world, has not, unfortunately, meant the end of slavery. It is estimated as many as 27 million people around the world are victims of modern slavery.”[8]

In 2019 it was estimated that in the US “more than 400,000 people could be living in ‘modern slavery’, a condition of servitude broadly defined in a new study as forced and state-imposed labor, sexual servitude and forced marriage.” [9]  The majority of those who live in “modern slavery” today are people of color, predominately Black and Brown folks.[i][10]

 

The Importance of A Juneteenth Feast Day For Us,
As Christians and Episcopalians

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free,
there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
Galatians 3:28 

In 2020 Diocesan Convention of California adopted a resolution instituting Juneteenth as a Diocesan Feast Day[11] and as a time of reflection, learning, self-assessment, and healing.  As part of the background for the resolution , it stated that “Juneteenth celebrations have become a time when “peoples of all races, nationalities and religions are joining hands to truthfully acknowledge a period of our history that shaped and continues to influence our society today””.[12]

The resolution was recognition that the celebration of Juneteenth has deep and lasting meaning for the Black community but also all people of color as we continue to fight for justice and freedom in America.  Juneteenth is an opportunity not only to celebrate this but also to speak out on the issue of freedom and justice for all.[13]

Additionally, the celebration of Juneteenth acknowledges the rise in racist and oppressive actions and behaviors that directly conflict with our beliefs and values as Christians.  The Diocesan Feast Day brings attention to this issue. It also brings greater awareness to the precious meaning of freedom for all people and provides us, as Christians, an opportunity to show our support of freedom and work for change.

This year on Saturday, June 15th at 11:00 am, the Diocese of California will celebrate its third Juneteenth Feast Day at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Oakland.  The Rt. Rev. Dr. Marc Andrus, Bishop, will be the Celebrant and The Rt. Rev. Austin Rios, Bishop Co-adjutor, will be the Preacher.  The service is sponsored by the Afro-Anglican Commission of the Diocese and the Northern California Vivian Traylor Chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians.  All are welcomed to attend and a reception will follow.

A Juneteenth Feast Day is also now a part of the National Church calendar.  At the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in 2022, the convention adopted resolution C-057A Resolution Regarding Inclusion of Juneteenth in Lesser Feasts & Fasts Calendar.  As part of the information submitted to support the resolution the following statement was included: Slavery is rightly called “the Original Sin of the United States of America.” Though slavery was ended throughout all of the United States on December 6, 1865 with the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the ongoing sin of systemic racism continues to this day. White people and white power structures, including The Episcopal Church, have benefitted from the institution of slavery. Black people continue to experience injustice in numerous ways.  Slavery gave way to Jim Crow segregation, lynchings, redlining, mass incarceration, and police brutality, among many other forms of oppression.  Though the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s brought about legislative reforms for Black citizens, inequity, injustice, and systemic racism continue.  These are in stark contrast to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is incumbent on the Church and each Christian fully to realize and to embody our baptismal vow to “strive for justice and peace, respecting the dignity of every human being,” committing to the work of bringing about the Beloved Community for which God created us.[14]

Celebrating Juneteenth Feast Days is just another step in our journey to becoming Beloved Community and to truly live into our baptism covenant of seeking and serving Christ in all persons, respecting and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

If the cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail.  Because the goal of America is freedom, abused and scorned tho’ we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


[1] https://capitolhistory.org/capitol-history-blog/the-long-history-of-our-new-federal-holiday-juneteenth/

[2] https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured-documents/emancipation-proclamation/transcript.html

[3] Ditto

[4] https://capitolhistory.org/capitol-history-blog/the-long-history-of-our-new-federal-holiday-juneteenth

[5] https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1993/summer/emancipation-proclamation.html

[6] Ditto

[7] Ditto

[8] What is Juneteenth by Henry Louis Gates, The Root, January 16, 2013

[9] Helmore, E. 2019 The Guardian: Over 400,000 people living in ‘modern slavery’ in US, report finds, viewed 8 August 2020, <https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jul/19/us-modern-slavery-report-global-slavery-index

[10]  Walk Free, Global Slavery Index, 2018 United States Report, viewed 8 August 2020, pp.2, 5 https://www.globalslaveryindex.org/2018/findings/country-studies/united-states/

[11]https://www.diocalconvention.org/wpcontent/uploads/2023/03/171st_Certified_Resolutions_Actions_Elections_2020.pdf  pp 6

[12] Juneteenth.com organization, Have a Happy Juneteenth, viewed 8 August 2020, <https://www.juneteenth.com/

[13] Juneteenth.com organization, Have a Happy Juneteenth, viewed 8 August 2020, <https://www.juneteenth.com/

[14] https://2022.vbinder.net/resolutions/228/finalization?house=HD&lang=en


Jeanette Dinwiddie-Moore, Co- chair of the Northern California Vivan Traylor Chapter of UBE and member of the Afo Anglican Commission

Rev. Alberta Buller, Deacon and  member of the Northern California Vivan Traylor Chapter of UBE

Ellie Simpson
Author: Ellie Simpson

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