We don’t really know why it took almost two and a half years for the good news of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 to make its way to Texas. There have been all kinds of speculation and theories. Whatever the reason, thousands of slaves remained in bondage because the good news that slavery had been abolished, the news that they were finally free, didn’t get there. Nobody told them. It could be that there were those who didn’t find it important enough to make sure this news spread like wildfire. Or it could have been deliberately withheld because of malignant profit motives. Even after the liberating news arrived, some slave owners continued to enslave people illegally whom the country had declared to be emancipated. It is thought that some were illegally enslaved for as long as six more years.
June 19, 1865 is the day that the good news finally arrived: Juneteenth. Black and Brown Americans have celebrated this day for 156 years despite the persistent obstacles and barriers that prevent them from being truly free.
Juneteenth is important for all Americans because it commemorates the formal end of racialized chattel slavery across the United States. It is important for us as Christians because our baptismal covenant requires that we promise not only to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ, but also to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being (BCP p. 305).
Juneteenth is an opportunity to tell and retell the story of the consequences of racism and the ongoing struggle for Black and Brown people; indeed for ALL racial minorities in a nation that is so often willing to ignore, if not deny, the reality of structural and pervasive racism. Black and Brown people have suffered generations of trauma, physical violence, and deaths, and exclusion from fair opportunities for economic growth and the full participation in the benefits of citizenship.
Until each one of us is willing to create true freedom and tell that good news, none of us will enjoy full liberation from the oppression of others. Failing to do so leaves us all in bondage.
The Diocesan Truth and Reconciliation Commission