“…then, thenceforward, and forever free…”
They were the first words I heard waking up on this Juneteenth, Lincoln’s words ringing in my ears. Words it took the enslaved community in Galveston, Texas more than two years to hear. Words Lincoln should never have had to say in the first place.
155 years later, we’re still trying to get that “thenceforward, and forever” part right.
I do not want to strip this holiday of its unique meaning to African-American communities, of its particular significance if you can trace your historical, biological lineage to those who were brutally oppressed and enslaved. We cannot forget the particularity of Juneteenth.
At the same time, I encourage all of us who are trying to follow Jesus to commemorate what happened on Juneteenth. We follow One whose own identity grew out of an enslaved people in Egypt, who called out leaders who abused their power. Our scriptures emerge from communities on the margins in terms of economics, politics, and social caste systems. Our own tradition regards the centralization of power in one person or community with skepticism at best.
This holiday may not be connected to your racial identity, but if you are a person who is trying to follow Jesus, who wants to know the God of our scriptures, who wants to claim that in God, we are all free and need a world that reflects our freedom, may you remember Juneteenth.
You may wish to join one of the vigils against racism held at 5 pm on Fridays in June throughout DC. At Western, we’ll join the churches throughout the District tolling bells at 5:45, remembering the eight minutes and 46 seconds the officer’s knee was on the neck of George Floyd. You may have an observance in your own home – a moment of silence or a bell you ring. In your solidarity, may you be strengthened in your own work for freedom.