Juneteenth 2003

Thursday, 19 June 2003

On June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger of the Union Army landed in the port city of Galveston, Texas, with his troops to proclaim freedom for the slaves of the American South. Although President Abraham Lincoln had issued his Emancipation Proclamation almost three years earlier, it was not until that day that the slaves of Texas, and indeed many other slaves throughout the South, heard that they had been freed. Juneteenth has been a day of celebration in Texas since that time, and in recent years it has been celebrated by descendants of former slaves all over the country.

The Emancipation Proclamation was a great document, but it didn't free all the slaves. Strictly speaking, it only freed slaves in those portions of the United States that were in rebellion against the Union, that is, the Confederate states (except for certain parishes in Louisiana and certain counties in Virginia). Slaves in the border states of Missouri, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware, as well as in certain territories, had to wait for the passage of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1865, which abolished slavery forever in the U.S.

About 2,500 years before the first celebration of Juneteenth, a prophet spoke to another group of oppressed people:

     The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
        because the Lord has anointed me;
     he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
        to bind up the brokenhearted,
     proclaim liberty to the captives,
        and release to the prisoners;
     to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor,
        and the day of vengeance of our God;
        to comfort all who mourn.  (Isa 61:1-2) 
The Jews suffering under the heel of the world's dominant empire knew it, the American slaves knew it, and many oppressed people around the world today know it as well. They know that God stands against oppressors and sides with the oppressed. Whether it's involuntary servitude, racial or ethnic discrimination, or socioeconomic repression, God will not allow it to stand. Those who perpetrate injustice in the world, promoting their own self-interests and the expense of the livelihoods and even lives of countless others, will not be allowed to thrive forever. The Day of the Lord is coming.

Millions of people today are enslaved and in need of emanicipation. Some live in countries with few, if any, civil rights. Some have no realistic opportunity to attain the health care, education, and economic stability that so many in the West take for granted. Tragically, many live in countries where these benefits of a wealthy society are available, but because of the color of their skin, or the language they speak, or the poverty of their parents, they are unable to claim what is rightfully theirs, indeed, what rightfully belongs to every human being on the planet.

If you're African American, celebrate today the freedom that your ancestors gained 140 years ago. If your ancestors were not slaves, celebrate the freedom that others found and that many died to procure. Regardless of who you are, pray for those who remain enslaved, and dedicated yourself today to fight for their freedom.

© Copyright 2003, Progressive Theology

Progressive Theology