Today’s post, written by Andrea Murdock, highlights an important, but lesser known, summer celebration of freedom.
On July 4th, families and friends across the U.S will gather in parks and back yards to picnic, barbecue, light fireworks, and celebrate the anniversary of their independence. Taking time to appreciate the past and remember how far we have come as a nation reinforces our shared value of freedom and independence.
Before July 4th, though, there is another celebration to commemorate the freedom granted to black slaves in America through the Emancipation Proclamation. Commonly known as Juneteenth, this celebration has other names, too. Depending on where you are in the United States it may be called Juneteenth, Juneteenth Independence Day, Freedom Day, Emancipation Celebration or Emancipation Day. The dates for these celebrations differ as well, depending on when a given area first heard the news of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, given on January 1st, 1863.
Once the Emancipation Proclamation became official, news spread across America that those enslaved were now free. Texas did not receive the news until two and a half years later. On June 19th, 1865 Major General Gordon Granger landed with his regiment at Galveston, Texas and enforced the ending of slavery there.
Why did it take so long? There is speculation, and Texas wasn’t the only state to have delay. One story suggests the person designated to share the news was murdered on his way. It is fairly certain that the news was purposefully withheld either to keep the free labor of the plantations or at least until the slave owners could benefit from a final harvest. Whatever the reason, one thing is certain, that June day when the news finally reached Texas, general reactions were shock and jubilee.
Texas is the only state that acknowledges Juneteenth as a state holiday, but many other states and regions celebrate, too. Juneteenth celebrations and their variations are the oldest known holiday celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation. While these celebrations grew in popularity as the years went on, there was a time when such celebrations were in decline. During the Great Depression, for example, time and money could not be spared and remembering Juneteenth became less and less important.
With the rise of the Civil Rights Movement, Juneteenth came back into cultural conscience of African-Americans. While it is still a celebration of the ending of slavery, Juneteenth is also a time to celebrate the growth and accomplishments made in the black community. It is a time for reflection of the past and encouragement for the future. Juneteenth is a symbol of freedom, opportunity, and the gradual progression of our nation toward true equality and freedom for all.
As you seek to enhance diversity in your communities and churches, celebrating Juneteenth or its variant in your area is a great way to show support and respect for black brothers and sisters in our communities and churches, be it praying, learning and/or partying together. More prominent styles for celebration include barbecuing, picnicking, and baseball games.
However, the main focus of Juneteenth celebrations is that of education and furthering the growth of community and respect for black culture. Therefore, speakers are often brought in and the elders within the community are often called upon to reflect upon the past for those gathered at the celebrations. Another means of celebration is holding a prayer service that serves as a time for reflection, thankfulness, and anticipation for the future of the community.
Juneteenth or Emancipation Day is recognized by more than half of the fifty states. Various places such as the Smithsonian and the Henry Ford Museum have developed activities focused on Juneteenth celebrations. A quick internet search may reveal celebrations already being held in your area. Participating in and acknowledging Juneteenth celebrations honors the black community and shows respect for the progress of our nation through the black community.
In the pursuit of visible unity, I encourage you to celebrate! Take time this summer to rejoice with and honor the black community. And take time to pray for this nation and for our churches as we continue on a path of healing and reconciliation.
Sources: http://www.juneteenth.com/history.htm, & Joplin’s councilwoman and former mayor, Melodee Colbert-Kean.
About Andrea Murdock
Andrea was born in Joplin, MO, but spent the majority of her growing up years in Maryland, where she served in a multi-ethnic church. A graduate of Ozark Christian College, Andrea is now pursuing a career in writing. She and her husband Malachi reside in Joplin, where they are excitedly anticipating the arrival of their first child in November.