Tomorrow is a day of special importance, particularly for people whose ancestors spent all or at least part of their lives in slavery in America. An article titled History of Juneteenth provides a summary of this special day (juneteenth.com/history.htm). Here are excerpts:
Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers led by Major General Gordon Granger landed at Galveston, Texas, with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. This was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which had become official January 1, 1863.
General Granger read this order: “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 rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”
The reactions to this profound news ranged from pure shock to immediate jubilation. Even with nowhere to go, many felt that leaving the plantation would be their first grasp of freedom. The desire to reach family members in neighboring states drove some into Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Settling into these new areas as free men and women brought on new realities and the challenges of establishing a heretofore non-existent status for black people in America.
Recounting that historic day in 1865, June 19th was coined “Juneteenth” as a time for reassuring each other, for praying and for gathering remaining family members. Juneteenth continued to be highly revered in Texas decades later, with many former slaves and descendants making an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston on that date.
On January 1, 1980, Juneteenth became an official holiday in the state of Texas through the efforts of Al Edwards, an African American state legislator. Legislation he introduced marked Juneteenth as the first emancipation celebration with official state recognition.
Today Juneteenth is celebrated in many ways and many places, with institutions such as the Smithsonian, the Henry Ford Museum and others sponsoring Juneteenth-centered activities.
Significantly, the apostle Paul wrote a long time ago these words in Galatians 3:26-28: “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (NIV)