"I prayed for freedom for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs." - American Abolitionist Frederick Douglass
On June 19, 1865, freedom rang. For the first time in 400 years, African Americans received the legal liberty they had long awaited for. Juneteenth marked a new beginning, a new dawn for the Black American experience. But, for many, the road was long and for a long time, confusion swirled around this concept of freedom.
Weren’t slaves free when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation? Didn’t the statement mean unprecedented access to progress?
The lessons and history of Juneteenth mark a time to reflect, but also remind us that we can celebrate freedom today and every day.
On January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation issued a clear statement that the rebel fight to continue the institution of slavery was over. No longer would people be able to own one another in America to exert their power, prestige, and expand their capital.
While slaves in many areas of the country began to exercise their newfound freedom, captive peoples in Texas were not aware of the good news. It wasn’t until two years later that Major General Gordon Granger announced to the people of Galveston, Texas the following statement:
"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 freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere."
After years and years of backbreaking work and many lives lost, the labor of the Black American would finally face reform. The words “work for wages” began a new journey for the freedmen, women, and children. A time to capitalize on the liberties that other Americans received. An ability to be autonomous and chart their own path.
They traded their pain for joy, their burden into their livelihood.
Picnics, rodeos, street fairs, historical reenactments, a day of service. Today, celebrations of Juneteenth look very different from that glorious day in 1865.
Freedom Day, another name for Juneteenth, is commemorated by many by exclusively shopping at Black-owned businesses, donating to local and national charities that are fighting for equality, or taking the time to reflect on the United State’s past relationship with slavery.
However one chooses to celebrate, remembering the countless lives lost and exploited is a noble first step. Though the institution of slavery was a deep stain on the foundation of America itself, we have made much progress as a nation and still have more to go.
Decide today how you will celebrate Juneteenth. Make a list, chart your path, and never forget that the fight for justice and freedom for all is still being fought.
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” —2 Corinthians 3:17
Jesus, our High Priest, paved the way for our freedom and died on the cross so that we would all be able to enjoy divine liberty in him. No longer do we have to be shackled to the sin and captivities of this world but we can be transformed. His sacrifice, his blood, changed everything. We are free.
But still, there are so many who have yet to hear the good news. And there are many who know, but are still living as though they are in chains. Let’s not forget that we weren’t just saved for ourselves. There is still a war being waged and more people who need to know about, and experience, the love and freedom found in Jesus. When we come humbly unto him, pray, and seek him daily he will give us the strength to fight the good fight.
As we continue the worthy battle for civil liberties, and to have equity under the laws of the land, we thank God that by him and through him, we are truly free. Juneteenth is a representation of freedom fought in the physical, but we can find solace in the fact that God has won the battle in the spiritual realm. In him, our Freedom Day is every day.