By Samuel M. Frost, Th.M.
Today, June 19th, is called, “Juneteenth Day.” This goes way back to 1865 in Texas. The Emancipation Proclamation went into effect January 1st, 1863. But, Afro-Americans in Texas had not been “officially” told about such a Proclamation. It is known that many Blacks in Texas “knew” of Lincoln’s writ, and there appears to be evidence of suppression of this news, also. Remember, there was no electricity, and many Texans wanted no part in Lincoln’s crusade.
The Civil War (April, 1861-May 1865) was over, but General Gordon Granger circulated the now famous “General Orders #3”, which stated that “slaves were free”. From 1866 onwards, June 19th became a day of celebration, and of sad memorializing. The Biden Administration has, as of the other day, effectively made it a “National Holiday” – which means for many, “I don’t have to go to work”.
The day, as stated, was already celebrated, and I have heard of it before through my studies of Afro-American history. What’s happening with it today, however, does not reflect the roots of celebration and prayer to God that it originally had among united-in-vision Black Americans and White Americans. Something I’d like to see recovered.
One book that captures the tension among Black slaves together with White empathizers against “slavocrats” is, Let My People Go: The Story of the Underground Railroad and the Growth of the Abolition Movement, (Henrietta Buckmaster. 1992 [orig. 1941]. University of South Carolina Press). Retelling the night before January 1st, 1863, New Years Eve, is one passage I will remember forever (pp. 301-305), and read to my son the other night (soon to be Political Science grad). Churches filled with White and Black souls prayed and sang into the night, until the clock tower bells struck midnight. Tears flowed together. Knees kneeled together. Nothing is worth having, if it’s not worth fighting for. What is worth fighting for is measured by the degree of sacrifice that has to be made. In this case it was freedom. Freedom to speak, think, and proclaim as one wished, and according to conscience. Not so in Texas. Buckmaster related that in Georgia a White man was hanged for supporting Abolitionists (p. 282). The year of 1860, when Lincoln became President, “Slaves and whites were arrested, beaten, and hanged together from Texas to Virginia” (p. 278).
Even though the Proclamation of Lincoln was hailed as a victory, James Weldon Johnson lamented that Frederick Douglas died (1895) a “disappointed man. He had lived to see many of his highest hopes for his race fall to the ground” (James Weldon Johnson, Black Manhattan. New York. 1930. Page 56). Today, we live somewhat in a different climate. Even though the idea of “biological races” is relatively new (see, The Stony Road We Trod: African American Biblical Interpretation: Cain Hope Felder, Ed. Fortress Press. 1991. Pp. 127-ff.; Cornel West, Prophetic Fragments: Illumination of the Crisis in American Religion & Culture. Eerdmans. 1988. Pp. 97-ff.), and largely developed from a secular, scientism (Linnaeus; Darwin; see also Darwin’s Plantation: Evolution’s Racist Roots, Ken Ham and A. Charles Ware. Master Books. 2009), racism has become radically politicized between the so-called Left and Right. Gone are the plantations, Jim Crow laws, segregated schools, and the like. True, we are living within the era of a mere generation ago that saw the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which, for the Black American is recent history, and my mother remembers traveling to the South from Indiana as a twenty-something year old in shock of seeing “Whites Only” signs in windows (in Indiana, segregation was felt, not spelt), my generation was born in the seventies. We grew up together, played together, and snuck out Richard Pryor records together (Pryor would probably be banned today if he performed). There was “we” and “together.”
I hear something profound in the words of Jesus when he said, “unless you believe like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18.3). The key to understanding this statement is to be mature as an adult, but convinced as a child is when it comes to faith. It applies to a lot of concerns. Concerning “race”, when all that “other stuff” – what I call, “noise”, creeps into the mind about “those people”, think like a child, like “we” and “together”. Today, however, these words cut both ways (and even this is not something new). I do not need to quote citations that are tantamount to demonizing White folks simply on the basis of their color of skin, or culture. I can. My library is fairly large. Lionel Lokos powerfully wrote, “As carefully as I can, I haltingly walk a racial tightrope that seems to get thinner and more fragile every year.” As for the Left and the Right, “I consider the obsequious condescension of the former every bit as degrading as the blatant bigotry of the latter” (Lionel Lokos, House Divided: The Life and Legacy of Martin Luther King. Arlington House. 1968. Page 11). That pretty much sums it up for me. Celebrate “Juneteenth”. Celebrate it along with and “together” with “we” in mind. I plan on attending a “festival” for a couple of hours along with other human beings, and hear opinions that may or may not inspire me. Don’t know unless I go.