Is Juneteenth a holiday only for black people?
My Twitter feed this weekend is filled with all things Juneteenth. Many of the posts included reminders that Juneteenth isn’t for all people of color, only blacks; specifically the decendents of slaves. My feed was also filled with calls for white people to support blacks, by patronizing black owned businesses and advocating for reparations by sending donations via their cashapp handle. Supposedly, such actions would help our nation in its effort to struggle against our racist past and present (again, their thoughts, not mine).
My feed also contained posts from those who dismissed Juneteenth completely. A few even advocated that white people should not be allowed to celebrate Juneteenth (except for the aforementioned supporting of blacks and reparations). And, then there were the white people asking how they could or should celebrate Juneteenth.
So, what should Christians of any ethnicity think about Juneteenth? I have three thoughts.
What is Juneteenth?
First, a history lesson. Juneteenth is the commemoration of when the last black slaves were freed from the bonds of American slavery. On June 19, 1865, Union Army General, Gordon Granger, proclaimed freedom for slaves living in Texas:
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 rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.
Texas was the last state where slaves either had not received word of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation or where slave masters intentionally concealed or withheld their freedom. Troops arrived in Texas to enforce the end of slavery almost 3 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation:
That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.
The news of freedom sparked celebrations among slave communities. These celebrations came to be held yearly and came to be known as Juneteenth by combining June and nineteenth.
Juneteenth is known as the African American Independence Day. For many black Americans, Juneteenth is celebrated with parades, bar-b-ques, and other festive celebrations. Despite what you may have heard, Juneteenth is not a "woke" holiday that CRT advocates just invented a couple years ago. As you can see in this vintage reel, Juneteenth has been celebrated in the black community for many decades and is a fun time.
Who Should Celebrate Juneteenth?
In my experience, many white people had never heard of Juneteenth until the last year or two. They don’t see it as a holiday meant for them to celebrate since they are not the descendants of slavery. This message is sometimes reinforced when they see their black friends on social media saying that it’s not for white people.
But, thinking that only ADOS (American Descendants of Slavery) can celebrate Juneteenth is simply ridiculous. Juneteenth is not a black holiday any more than July 4th is a white one. These distinctions are reductionistic and diminish the potential to celebrate the noble ideals that stand behind the holidays. Juneteenth is a reason for all people to celebrate.
Regardless of ethnicity.
Celebrate! Give thanks!
The institution of slavery was not just an egregious act of white people towards black people. Yes, America’s participation in chattel slavery was a terrible sin and that stained our nation. But, not just our nation. Other nations also participated in the kidnapping and trafficking of Africans as property. The ending of such a horrific atrocity is a reason to celebrate!
As Christians, we can celebrate the ending of a very sinful practice. We can celebrate the fact that image-bearers were freed from slavery and that our nation took a bold step to align itself with the noble ideals of our founding documents, that all men are created equal and have the God-given right to life, liberty, and the pursuit happiness.
As Christians, we can and, in my personal opinion, should celebrate when sinful laws and practices are overturned. When image bearers, either through personal choice or legal action, are disencumbered of the weight of sin.
An Opportunity for Prayer
We can also use Juneteenth as an opportunity to remember the very real impact that sin has had on our nation and give thanks to God that we came to our senses to end it. We can also pray and work for the freedom of others who are trapped in various forms of slavery in our nation and around the world. May God grant us mercy.
So go make a cake, set off some fireworks, have a family history lesson, and pray together. Celebrate Juneteenth!
Watch last year's Juneteenth episode of All The Things with Dr. Harold Felder.