Juneteenth: Free at Last
Saturday - June 19th
Scripture to Read Today: Ephesians 3:7-13
In Christ and through faith in him,
we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
"You are free!" These words declared to black slaves in Texas on June 19, 1865, reverberated across the Lone Star State. Two and a half years earlier, President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation in the midst of the Civil War. Lincoln believed slaves would be liberated and that this would hasten the end of the war by undermining the south's economy. The proclamation intended to set free all slaves in every state. Word of the great news did not reach all of the states equally at the same time.
In Texas, black slaves were the last of the 4 million estimated slaves in the southern United States to be set free. Texas was a far distance from oversight and control back in Washington, D.C. The Civil War ended in April 1865. Two months later, General Gordon Granger of the Union Army and about 2,000 troops arrived in Galveston to establish an interim government - the provisional Department of Texas.
Granger and his team were primarily tasked with spreading the word to the 250,000 Texas slaves that they were free. On June 19, 1865, General Order No. 3 was issued: "The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. You are free."
June 19th became known as Juneteenth. In Texas as early as one year later, in 1866, Juneteenth became a wonderful, annual day of remembrance and celebration for former slaves and their families. Blacks remembered their African American ancestry and the suffering of their ancestors in America for nearly two centuries. They also celebrated the freedom granted them in the release from slavery by the Emancipation Proclamation.
Many African Americans consider Juneteenth the independence day that their people did not experience on the 4th of July in 1776. The annual celebration has spread to all 50 states (and Juneteenth celebrations can be found in most major cities of the world).
As of Thursday (June 17, 2021), when President Biden signed legislation passed earlier this week by both houses of congress, Juneteenth became a national holiday. Most federal government employees across the country had Friday off after the President signed the legislation the day before.
It is hard to fathom just how exuberant, festive, and enjoyable that first Juneteenth would have been 155 years ago. Slaves being told they were free. Progress has been made for blacks in America since that final state's slaves were set free. However, overt acts of racism and implicit bias in our social systems still continue to produce damaging injustices. There is still so much more we can do today.
We can start by being willing to hear from, and bless, our black brothers and sisters by becoming aware of how they see our world and how they feel in our society. In one story gathered from former slaves in the 1930s, one slave said something simple but profound. "A man who has not been a slave cannot begin to understand what it feels like to be owned as property by someone one day, and then be declared entirely free the next day." Another former slave said, "Slavery affected black people in America so deeply for several centuries, it might take several centuries for full healing and reconciliation to be achieved."
Today is the first Juneteenth national holiday. Think about the magnitude of this day on the hearts of African Americans in our country, community, and church.
One former slave told an interviewer, "Our freedom gave us a boldness to look a white man in the eyes and know we were equal no matter how we were treated. No one can take the boldness away from us now." The Scriptures speak of freedom that provides boldness that only the followers of Christ get to experience.
Ephesians 3:11 describes this freedom we have because of our faith in Jesus. It says, "In Christ and through faith in him, we may approach God with freedom and confidence." We who had been enslaved to sin were set free by the grace of God. That freedom means that we can approach our God in confidence, not as His equal, but because of our liberation in Christ. Sin no longer separates us from God. In Jesus, we have full and complete access to Him.
The day we received Christ as Savior was our liberation day. Just as the Emancipation Proclamation gave freedom and that freedom gave boldness to former slaves, so Christ gives us freedom. That freedom provides us with boldness in going before Him in worship and prayer.
As we celebrate with our black friends this Juneteenth, let's celebrate with our black brothers and sisters in Christ the freedom we have been given in Jesus! Today take time as you pray to thank God for making direct prayer to Him possible by His grace. Thank Him for the freedom you have to approach Him in confidence that he receives and hears you.
Juneteenth celebrates the liberation of nearly 4 million black Americans from slavery 155 years ago. Let's thank God for freedom!