I suspect many people had not heard of “Juneteenth” before this week, when the 150th anniversary of the celebration followed by just two days the heartless murder of nine black worshipers in Charleston’s historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The accused assailant is a 21-year-old man with a heart full of hate and a very twisted understanding of reality.
Most southern states were slow in acknowledging the Emancipation Proclamation, which officially freed American slaves, refusing to honor the decree until Union forces occupied their territory and declared it the law of the land. The last state in which this happened was Texas. On June 19, 1865, the US Army’s Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas to announce the news and enforce the law. The last holdout of slavery had grudgingly succumbed, and the day has been celebrated as “Juneteenth” ever since.
It was a bit of an odd feeling to be in Texas for the General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship on that 150th Juneteenth day, and to mourn with others the tragedy that had befallen our brothers and sisters in Charleston. The news of freedom reached captive slaves in Texas more than two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation took effect. Now, 150 years later, some folks in our country still seem to feel that black people are inferior, undeserving of respect, or somehow a threat to the future.
We’re still not free from ignorance, from fear, from intolerance, or from a sad cultural embrace of violence fed by easy access to guns.
What can we do? For now, we can mourn the deaths of innocent victims who welcomed a stranger to pray with them before becoming targets of his senseless rage. We can let it be known that we abhor such violence and grieve with those who continue to suffer hate-inspired discrimination and prejudice. We can seek to be peacemakers and call for pistol-whipped lawmakers to stand up to the NRA and pass serious gun control measures. We can pray for those who suffer, for the one who caused the suffering, and for any other misguided souls who sympathize with his heinous cause.
And we can take every opportunity to bring love and hope and light into a world where there are still too many dark corners.
Juneteenth should be a happy day — not a sad reminder that for many, true freedom is yet a dream.