Juneteenth: A basket over a candle
January 1, 1863, was the official day of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Yet, unbeknownst to me and much of the white world, in this or any time. It was two and a half years later before the start of the freedom celebration. It is somewhat a mystery as to exactly how this delay happened. What sequence of events took place to hold it off, not advertise it-not declare the Declaration? Conspiracies abound.
One story in this mythic states that the messenger of this news of liberation was murdered
on his way to Texas. Another theory of its suppression relies on reports that landowners
censored the news to maintain their labor force for as long as they could. Rumors had it that Federal Troops were part of that suppression. And it worked, for more than 2 years.
Finally, in June of 1865, Major General Gordon Granger with flag and gun in hand, stormed
the shores of Galveston, motivated to announce the freedom of those who had been
enslaved. News had spread of course. This time though, the General brought along enough
Union troops to make it stick. Rumor has it some people reacted with shock, others with
real jubilation. June 19th brought shock, praying, partying, departing, efforts to reunite with
family members, stress, and joy.
Like the day you realize the cancer is gone.
Like new love.
From that moment, the news went viral nationwide. People could not wait to leave the
plantation and start living more freely. And they started moving around, across state lines.
Let’s be clear - Juneteenth was only 158 trips around the sun from us today.
The lives of those enslaved lived lives and truly felt much closer to what one imagines it felt
like to be a Jew walking with Moses three plus thousand years ago, than most of ours here.
Now Galveston is a place of pilgrimage. I believe that forever moving forward, Juneteenth
will be in its proper place as a proud American holiday. And a reminder to all of us. When
justice is expensive and inconvenient to implement, it will mostly (and most powerfully) be
resisted in surprisingly quiet ways. Insidiously quiet ways.
“Forever and ever all Americans will this era forward celebrate Juneteenth, the freedom
holiday”! And I am proud that we will be a part of that.
adapted from a rhyming prayer by Arthur Kroll
~ Steve Wilson