Quoted: The Story of Juneteenth

By , originally posted at Feminism and Religion


Emancipation day celebration— later known as Juneteenth and a public holiday in Texas; via Wikimedia Commons.

Editor’s Note: This article originally was published Tuesday, June 18, 2013. Juneteenth refers to June 19. -JL

Tomorrow is a special day for me. It is Juneteenth.  On June 19, 1865, news finally reached Galveston, Texas that slavery had been abolished. This was of course two and a half years after Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. While the actual impact of the emancipation for the enslaved remains a source of historical discussion if not debate, the fact of the matter  is that the proclamation of emancipation and the reality of freedom for black women and men did not necessarily coincide. To be sure, for a variety of reasons, the Emancipation Proclamation did not have an immediate impact on the daily lives of enslaved women, men and children.  While the “official” historical records marks   January 1, 1863 as a day of emancipation, the historical record for the descendants of enslaved men and women marks June 19, 1865 as the day of freedom. For, it was on this day that the last slaves were free.

While the celebrations of Juneteenth have waxed and waned over the years, it remains a day in which African Americans reflect upon the “mighty long way” we have come as well as the “mighty long way” we have left to go on the pathway toward freedom.  As I celebrate Juneteenth, in the words of a black gospel song, “My soul looks back and wonders how they got over.”  And so it is that my theological imagination is stirred, for it is clear that it was by faith that they (the enslaved) got over. And so I ask, what kind of faith was it that allowed them to get over, that is, to survive a life of bondage? This question is even more pressing to me each time that I am reminded that there were those who were born into slavery and died in slavery, and thus, as Toni Morrison once exclaimed, “never drew a free breath.” So, what kind of faith was it that carried these people through life?

Read the full article at Feminism and Religion.