Learn, worship and act in a way that honors the spirit of Juneteenth
Columnist Emily Carson says across the religions of the world, God calls us to fight oppression and injustice.
Juneteenth on June 19 commemorates the liberation of enslaved African Americans. Other names for this occasion include Jubilee Day, Freedom Day and Black Independence Day.
As Americans, we benefit from collective acknowledgment of this day because slavery and its tragic consequences are part of our national history. We can participate in Juneteenth through learning, worship and action.
I don’t remember learning about Juneteenth as a child in Iowa. It wasn’t until I lived in Chicago as a seminary student that I first heard about this important day. Taking time to learn the history of Juneteenth equips us to more fully appreciate its significance.
On June 19, 1865, Major Gen. Gordon Granger announced to enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, that they were free and had been freed through the Emancipation Proclamation over two and a half years prior on January 1, 1863.
June 19 has been an important day ever since, and last year, it was designated a federal holiday. Picnics, parades and community festivals are held around the country to uplift black joy, culture and history.
Last year, when President Biden signed new legislation into law, he said, “By making Juneteenth a federal holiday, all Americans can feel the power of this day and learn from our history – and celebrate progress and grapple with the distance we've come and the distance we have to travel.”
Holy texts across many religious traditions call followers of God to fight against oppression and injustice. Honoring Juneteenth in spiritual ways reminds us that the Creator of all stands in solidarity with those in bondage, and calls all people to disrupt oppression and the abuse of power.
In addition to embracing learning opportunities, we can commemorate Juneteenth through our individual and collective religious rituals.
Religious Juneteenth resources for congregations are available through the Iowa organization Faithful Voices for Racial Justice ( faithful-voices.org ), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American ( bit.ly/elcajuneteenth ) and the United Methodist Church ( bit.ly/UMEJuneteenth ).
This weekend may also be an opportunity to engage in personal prayer and meditation contemplating themes of justice and community building.
Actively connecting with others on Juneteenth weekend underscores the significance of Juneteenth as a day to commemorate in community. Rochester's 17th annual Juneteenth Celebration is set for noon on Saturday, June 18, 2022, at Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Park, in conjunction with Rochesterfest.
Another way to engage in Juneteenth is through Opal’s Walk ( opalswalk.com ) which is a 2.5-mile walk that begins and ends wherever you choose. Opal Lee was present for the signing of the federal holiday legislation at the White House last year. She lives in Texas and is now 95 years of age. Lee has been a long-time advocate for the collective honoring of Juneteenth.
In a 2021 interview with The New York Times, she shared, “We have simply got to make people aware that none of us are free until we’re all free, and we aren’t free yet. There’s so many disparities.” For years, Lee has encouraged an annual 2.5-mile walk in honor of the 2.5 years it took for enslaved people in Texas to learn of the Emancipation Proclamation. Visit the website to register and start planning your route.
This is also an ideal weekend to support black-owned businesses, and to direct our time and resources in support of ministries and organizations that prioritize the work of racial justice and community healing ( rochestermom.com/rochestermn/guides/rochester-mn-black-minority-businesses ).
This weekend the people of the United States have the opportunity to commemorate Juneteenth. Let’s participate with open hearts as we learn, worship and act.
"Holy Everything" is a weekly column by Emily Carson. She is a Lutheran pastor. Visit her website emilyannecarson.com .