by Pastor Harvey Drake
(accompanying photos are from various Juneteenth celebrations from across Seattle taken by Susan Fried)
Freedom is an intrinsic spiritual value that is deeply rooted in the DNA of our country. It is a value we celebrate nationally. For weeks preceding Independence Day, our flag covers items in stores as families look forward to gathering for food and fireworks.
But, have you considered how July 4th alone does not encompass the ways that freedom has been found in America’s history? I implore the American church and would venture to say that it is imperative in our diverse nation that we recognize how our brothers and sisters have obtained their freedom.
Juneteenth: African American Independence Day
Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, is an official American holiday, that unfortunately, many know very little about. Juneteenth commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery to 250,000 of the African American slaves in Texas, who did not know that they had already been granted freedom.
The underbelly of June 19th, 1865 is that it was a delayed announcement that came more than two years late. President Abraham Lincoln had already issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22nd in 1862, with an effective date of January 1st, 1863. The document clearly declared that all enslaved persons were to be freed.
When this liberty was realized by slaves in Galveston Texas, there was rejoicing and jubilation in the streets. Some then moved north for a new start, some stayed in the south, but all faced great opposition as Jim Crow laws created a new form of oppression that further segregated and disenfranchised.
Even after emancipation, there were barriers when it came to celebrating freedom. There were no public places available for blacks to gather. One account tells of a resourceful community in Houston that pooled money together to purchase a 4-acre plot of land. It was then established as “Emancipation Park”, the sole public park available in Texas for African Americans to gather and celebrate their freedom on Juneteenth.
Recognizing Juneteenth Today
Today Juneteenth is observed largely in local celebrations, parades, and cookouts, but on a national scale still goes largely unnoticed. If we are to value each other’s stories of freedom, we must first value the history. I challenge us to recognize the emancipation of African American people because I believe in doing so we recognize the value and worth conferred on them by Almighty God. He is a God who surely values our freedom.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
For Christians in America, there is a grander reason we each celebrate freedom. Christ purchased our freedom and eliminated the perpetual state of brokenness with his blood through his death on the cross. Until Christ’s extravagant act of love on a brutal, humiliating cross, we were all in bondage and were being conformed to the ways of corrupt culture. We were each destined for eternal separation from our creator.
Much like the African Americans in Texas, many today do not know that their freedom has already been bought and paid for. Our freedom is guaranteed when we respond to Christ. It is a freedom freely offered to all.
As we celebrate the liberty from sin that we have each found in Christ and as we celebrate the ways that freedom has been found in the history of our nation, let us recognize and value each other in love.
Pastor Drake is the senior pastor of Emerald Bible Fellowship in the Rainier Beach neighborhood