“We’s free we’s free” were some of the words cried out by newly freed slaves on June 19th 1865. The day would become known as Juneteenth. While July 4th is the United States official Independence day; Juneteenth is another independence day for African Americans and others who can see how this day moved our nation one step closer to the vision of the Declaration of Independence.
For a people who were oppressed in the most heinous and inhumane of ways, this day served as a sign that the God they worshiped had not forsaken them. White slave owners taught that the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob condoned and supported the enslavement of black people. Man lies, but the Spirit does not. The Spirit of God pierced the hearts of slaves, and they were not fooled by the deception of white men. They praised their Lord through song and dance. Negro spirituals like Oh Freedom, Roll Jordan Roll, Wade in the Water, and Swing Low Sweet Chariot were the testimony of my people. These ancestors of mine truly new God, felt God, and praised God even in the most dire of circumstances.
Whether it be in this life or the next black folks knew that rest and liberation would come. Thousands died before liberation day arrived in the United States, but their faith sustained them. It sustained them on the tortuous journey through the middle passage, through the unbearably hot days picking cotton in the field, the whippings, the rapes, and the lynching’s. Their faith truly made them whole. Juneteenth was a legal and physical representation of a state of mind that slaves had already mastered.
Today on the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth I reflect on where my people are, and where the country is as a whole. In the wake of the massacre at the AME church in Charleston, I’ve felt burdened with hopelessness. We have seen acts of terror that parallel this tragedy nearly perfectly. Specifically the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, and it causes me to think that maybe we haven’t come very far at all. This morning I read a few articles about Juneteenth while negro spirituals played softly in the background, the spirit pierced my heart. The same spirit that touched and sustained my enslaved mothers and fathers, it spoke to me, and the message was clear. “Celebrate this day, celebrate the liberation it represents, and be motivated to keep marching on with the good work.” Some people are wondering where was God when a terrorist murdered his children in his house, were they forgotten and forsaken. The spirit spoke the truth to me. No, we are not forsaken; our names are written on his palms and he will continue to send is spirit to sustain and strengthen us.
I feel sad, but not forsaken. God sent Juneteenth to serve as a reminder of him and his work. Thank you day of liberation and independence, you sustain us, progress us, and grow us as we reflect and work toward hope and healing.