JUNETEENTH: FREEDOM - BUT ...


The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ


"They all ate and were satisfied. And when the leftover fragments were picked up,

they filled twelve wicker baskets." (Lk 9:11b-17)


On 19 June 1865, Major General Gordon Granger, commanding officer, District of Texas, issued General Order No. 3 to the Black enslaved in Galveston, Texas: “All enslaved people are now free.” The Civil War had ended on 9 April 1865, but the great majority of the Black enslaved people of Texas had not heard this liberating news. Over two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, Breaking News came. 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.” The message was read in different areas of the city and published in newspapers throughout the state.


But – there was a hook: Slaves, according to the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, were freed from slavery only in those Confederate states that broke from the Union. States that remained in the Union could continue with this sinful, inhumane institution. It would take the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution on 6 December 1865 to end chattel slavery throughout the nation.


Jubilation flowed through the hearts of a newly freed people into the streets. The Black community quickly formed groups responsible for different aspects of a jubilant event. Parades, picnics, games, dancing, and oratorical displays characterized celebratory activities surrounding what they would soon call Emancipation Day but was also destined to be called by the moniker JUNETEENTH! This name is a mashup of the month of June and the number 19.


Celebrating participants dressed up (It was illegal in some areas to wear the clothing of white folk), put on their best manners (Many slave masters thought they had no civilized mannerisms), mended personal feuds (To build a strong community), and, for the first time, and as a collective body of American humanity, allowed themselves to imagine a brighter future in a “foreign” land. One journalist wrote:

The old plantation melodies…were transformed into a new song and the

sunshine of the dreams that once dwelt in their hearts burst full and fair

upon them as they both felt and realized the fullness of the freedom

that is now theirs. . . The colored people of Galveston certainly

deported themselves creditably in celebrating ‘their 4th of July.’”

Flakes Bulletin, 20 June 1878


But - As good as this news was for our newly freed ancestry, there were numerous mountains to climb and — sorry to say — are still climbing. Their spirits aid our present moment. To emerge from the institution of slavery is a herculean task that requires goals, purpose, vision, close-knit communities; ethnic politicians conscious of their culture, and a constituency who both respect and celebrate their culture and contributions to life in America. A must-have for those still exiting systemic misery and continued theft of life, prosperity and self-esteem through an enduring faith in God.


But - We need: Churches boldly proclaiming the ever revelatory Word of God; churches creating, building, and sustaining environments for traumatized people. The norm of Eurocentric superiority is so ensconced in the social/economic/racial fabric of the United States that the very notion of a free, Black citizenry with all the personal rights and privileges of property of every white person in the population is tantamount to social treason and leads to social mixing and the impurity of a “race” that has never existed in recent history (Think thousands of years).


But - For some, these are foreign concepts that are beyond the imaginations of those descended from the Founding Fathers and certainly not those with “Christian” backgrounds. On the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, nurtured by the Bread of Life and saved by Christ’s sacrifice of his blood, we are fully equal to partake in the full, conscious activities of the land in which we live.


But - now that Juneteenth is a federal holiday (effective 17 June 2021), a prickly urge can be to clap our hands and move on to other pressing matters. But – what could be more pressing than the construction of a path to preserve our freedoms. Daily we see those who wish to erode our progress and take us back to earlier times in American history. We must honor the strides and pathways laid out for us by our brave and courageous ancestry who looked evil in the face and did not cringe nor step aside.


And – we cannot allow the value of hope to become so overwhelming that it becomes weighty and, therefore, becomes toxic through inaction. Keeping hope alive must be paired with an agenda that presses us toward the high mark of Christ. Juneteenth Lives!


Author: Rawn Harbor, Musical Artist, Black Catholic Liturgist Extraordinaire

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