History teaches us that on September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing more than three million black slaves in the Confederate states as of January 1, 1863.
It also teaches us that On April 9, 1865, Robert E. Lee surrendered his 28,000 Confederate troops to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, in Appomattox, Virginia, effectively ending the American Civil War. What it doesn’t tell us is that both of those accepted “historical facts” are incorrect.
Slavery in the Confederate states was technically ended by the Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863, but many African Americans remained unaware and still being held against their will till June 19, 1865. The next year, in 1866, formerly enslaved Black Texans began celebrating the occasion now known as Juneteenth.
Juneteenth is a portmanteau of the words June and nineteenth, and references June 19, 1865, the day that enslaved African Americans were actually emancipated in every part of the United States. Celebrated by African Americans since the late 1800s, it wasn’t until recently that it became more widely known outside of the Black community, finally becoming a federal holiday in 2021.
Ultimately, Juneteenth is an opportunity… It is an opportunity to begin getting history right. We have to amend the story, where the story was told with bias and disregard for the truth, because anything built on something other than the truth cannot long endure.
But most importantly, Juneteenth is an opportunity to reflect on all the ways our society has deprived (and in many ways, continues to deprive) Black Americans of their freedom and humanity, from slavery to segregation and beyond.
Yes, it is a day to celebrate freedom for all, but because of it, we must persist in seeking and telling the truth. We must amend our history where it is flawed and biased so we might shine a light on the power of justice and pray for continued change in the future.
Maybe something like this prayer from the Evangelical Lutheran Church Association which focuses on finding ways to identify and work against modern discrimination, racism, and hatred.
Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression.
Help us, like those generations before us who resisted the evil of slavery and human bondage in any form and any manner of oppression.
Help us to use our freedoms to bring justice among people and nations everywhere to the glory of your holy name through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Have a safe, happy, and blessed Juneteenth!