Juneteenth: History and Challenge

“To be honest, it is only this year 2021 that I have finally realized what the Juneteenth celebration is all about though I have heard about it before now,” writes San Antonio Brigidine, Agnes Oman.  Juneteenth derives its name from June 19, 1865 – the day that the U.S. General Gordon Granger informed the enslaved people of Galveston, Texas, that they were officially free persons, and by extension it marked the end of slavery in Texas and all the Confederate States.

Notice that it took over two and half years from the time Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation for this to be widely known and recognized!   Over the years, except for in the African American community, little was known of this historical event.  The same could be said of the Tulsa, OK massacres, one hundred years ago this year, when a whole black community in that city was decimated.  It is another sad reflection on our history and there certainly is symbolism in that delay!

This year, President Biden signed the June National Independence Day Act into law.  Juneteenth has now become a national holiday.  Harvard professor and historian, Jarvis Givens, says that “a confluence of national politics, grief and outrage following the murders of back Americans by police brought the holiday of Juneteenth to a new prominence across the country.”

However, Agnes goes on to share, “Having listened to Fr. Bryan Massingale for three evenings recently, at the Oblate Summer Institute on the theme, “Racism: A Soul Sickness,” I am deeply aware of how much more needs to be done to achieve racial justice in this country. I am very aware also how being white brings us many privileges that I don’t always realize.  I have no idea what it is really like for African Americans in 21st century America. I have not walked in their shoes. But I certainly learned a lot at the summer institute. We have come a long way but we still have a long way to go to have true equality.  I question what it is that I need to do and how I can help to make change happen in the way African Americans are treated.”

All of us are challenged to be people, like Rosa Parks who refused to give up her seat in that bus in Montgomery, or Congressman John Lewis, recently deceased, who led the march across the infamous bridge in Selma, and called in his dying wish for his followers “to make good trouble.”