Black Lives Matter and Juneteenth
June 19, 2020
“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. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.” —General Orders, Number 3; Headquarters District of Texas, Galveston, June 19, 1865
On June 19, 1865, about two months after the Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Va., Union Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform enslaved Black people of their freedom and that the Civil War had ended. Since then, Juneteenth has been a day of celebration in the Black community and grown to become the most popular annual celebration of emancipation from slavery in the United States.
This Juneteenth we must pause and acknowledge the immense gap between the freedom promised in 1865 and the freedom delivered. The Emancipation Proclamation formally ended slavery in the Confederate States, and later the 13th Amendment ended slavery across the United States, but white enslavers and white Union victors established new rules that intentionally limited the freedom of Black people and families for decades after that.
The new reality still allowed white former enslavers to set wage and work conditions. White structures restricted employment opportunities for Black people while creating new forms of powers to control “idleness” – an excuse police used to arrest Black people, imprison them, and force them to work for little or no wages. Newly “freed” Black people and families faced violence and terror as they attempted to leave their former enslavers. Firsthand historical accounts of formerly enslaved people recall multiple insistences of lynching and shootings. The system of slavery adapted into new systems of white control over Black people.
Still, Black families celebrated. Their joy and celebration was and continues to be an act of resistance and resilience in the face of racial oppression.
The Civil Rights movement of the 20th century and the continued fight for Black liberation against state-sanctioned oppression in this century are the continuation of century-old attempts to right the wrongs based in the United States’ original sin, the enslavement of Black people.
The forces of white supremacy and white racism are so powerful and so pervasive that we see day in and day out examples of blatant disregard for Black lives at the hands of the State police agents as well as white vigilantes seeking to assert dominance over Black lives. We see disregard for Black people’s health in hospitals, leading to higher rates of illness and death. We see disregard for Black workers who experience higher rates of unemployment and lower wages than white workers. The system was never set up to provide equity for Black Americans. We must work for radical change based in Black liberation for the good of our whole nation.
My heart breaks every day recognizing how my own behavior has contributed to Black oppression. It is long past time for white people to acknowledge how we contribute to this long-standing system, benefit from it, and have responsibility to tear it down. “All lives matter” is a slogan for those who refuse to acknowledge the unique and life-altering privileges being white provides. The privilege to have doctors take your health concerns seriously. The privilege of being able to walk by police officers without triggering their fear and a potential attack.
The Black Lives Matter movement is a holy movement calling us to affirm the life and dignity of Black people. In his life and in his death, Jesus was a member of an oppressed community, not the powerful. We cannot claim to follow the life and message of Jesus and remain silent in the face of racism today. Like the delay in emancipation for people who were enslaved in Texas in 1865, the pain and suffering of Black people in the United States has been going on far too long today.
We solemnly say the names of those we’ve lost to violence and systemic racism. We watch as our brother George Floyd died with a knee on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 second as he cried in vain for the breathe of life and for his dead mother. We won’t be silent anymore.
Hope grows as resistance grows. The streets across the U.S. and around the world have become alive with prophetic witness. This is church in the street, proclaiming the sacred truth, “No one is truly free until we all are free” To the Black community on this day of remembrance, I commit to working with you restructure our society to ensure equity for the Black community. To the white people marching in the streets and in virtual spaces, I see justice in your eyes. To the white Sisters and Brothers clinging to the false God of white supremacy or white silence, I call you to true discipleship.
Malcom X said, “I believe that there will be ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those who do the oppressing. I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the system of exploitation.”
This Juneteenth, let us acknowledge the sinful history of slavery in our country, mourn the people harmed and killed by white violence and inhumanity, and honor the resilience of the Black community. This Juneteenth let us recommit ourselves to use our hearts, minds, and souls in the service of racial justice, a justice far too long delayed.