Why Juneteenth is a Holiday Every American Should Celebrate

by Jim Denison

Today is Juneteenth (“June” plus “nineteenth”). The less you know about this holiday, the more you need to know.

On June 19, 1865, two months after the Confederacy surrendered, Union General Gordon Granger led a group of federal troops into Galveston, Texas.

Maj. Gen. Granger issued this declaration: “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 personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.”

AN ANNUAL RITE AND A CENTURY OF WAITING

As Henry Louis Gates, Jr. notes, Maj. Gen. Granger had no idea that his order would establish the most popular annual celebration in the United States of emancipation from slavery. The newly freed black men and women of Texas made the date into their own annual rite, beginning one year later in 1866.

Informal celebrations of the date continued until, in 1980, Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday. Forty-five states recognize the holiday today.

President Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier, but it freed only slaves within Confederate states who were liberated by Union troops. Even after Granger’s proclamation, many of the 250,000 slaves in Texas were mistreated for decades to come.

African Americans would wait nearly one hundred years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

Tragically, much of the prejudice African Americans have faced in our nation has come from white Christians.

“THE COLOR OF COMPROMISE”

In The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism, historian Jemar Tisby surveys four hundred years of American church history. He shows that white American Protestants in both the North and the South repeatedly used their theology and church institutions to perpetuate racial power imbalances.

This tragic story begins early.

Although the custom in England was that Christians could not enslave one another, the Virginia General Assembly—made up of Anglican men—enacted a law in 1667 mandating that slaves not be freed when they were baptized.

Tisby notes that while George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards both preached the message of salvation to all, both Whitefield and Edwards owned slaves. In fact, they saw nothing in Scripture that forbade slavery.

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Source: Christian Headlines