There was a protest in Champaign on that day and I decided to go and participate in my first protest ever. It was inspiring to say the least. Hundreds of people gathering together to say "Enough is enough." after the death of George Floyd, just a few weeks earlier. That protest was on Juneteenth.
If you don't know, Juneteenth is the holiday celebrating the final slaves in Texas getting the news that they were finally free on June 19, 1866. It is a celebration of the freedom, a way to remember the tragedies of slavery, and also the resilience of black people for 246 years.
When I first heard of this holiday (as someone who is white), I'll be honest....I thought it was for black people. This is "their thing" - I wasn't freed, my ancestors weren't freed - so what does this have to do with me? I felt like it was kind of like celebrating Canada Day - it's great for Canadians to celebrate but why would I?
But the more I've thought about it, the more I've come to conclusion that this holiday is for everyone in the U.S.
Let's take a look at Passover, the famous Jewish holiday. If you don't know: Passover is the celebration of God rescuing his people from slavery in Egypt. For 400 years, the Hebrew people (AKA Jews/ Israelites) were forced to work for Pharoah and the Egyptian people without any type of compensation. They were whipped and beaten - treated like they were nothing. Does this sound familiar? It should.
Finally, God decided enough was enough and sent Moses to be his mouth piece to the Egyptians and telling them to let God's people go. There were ten plagues and lots of heartache throughout this time. The tenth plague was when God killed off the first born of every person in Egypt who didn't have the blood of the lamb on their door post. Everyone who did have the blood of the lamb, was spared. This act made Pharoah finally let the Hebrews go.
The Hebrews were then told to celebrate this on a yearly basis in order to remember how God saved them from slavery (Exodus 12:17-20).
2. Jesus celebrated freedom.
Thousands of years later, Jesus died the same week as passover was being celebrated - not a coincidence at all. That lamb that we talked about earlier, was a picture of Jesus coming and freeing all of us from the bondage of sin and death.
The Christian faith is all about freedom from sin (See Galatians 5:1, Romans 6:7, Romans 13:8, etc...).
3. God isn't just responsible for the Hebrews' freedom.
Amos 9:7 says: Are you not like the Cushites to me, O people of Israel?” declares the Lord. “Did I not bring up Israel from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Syrians from Kir?
This one is a bit of a crazy thought. So often, we can think that God just cared about the Israelites in the Old Testament. But in this verse, we see that God was involved in freeing other nations as well! God doesn't just care about a certain group and we shouldn't either.
I believe that God was very much involved in the abolition of slavery in the United States too. When we look at the most impactful abolitionists, they were Christians!
4. Jesus proclaimed liberty.
In Luke 4:17-19, it says: "And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
This isn't from a random Tuesday, this passage was at the very beginning of Jesus ministry. Obviously, what he said here was very important. It was his opening remarks before he went on to completely change history. And in this critical moment: he proclaims liberty to the oppressed (AKA those who are trapped in slavery).
5. We celebrate what we think matters.
Think of birthdays, Memorial Day, Christmas, Easter, etc... Why do we celebrate these days? It's because we value that person who was born that day. We want to remember that Jesus was a born of a virgin and celebrated by shepherds and wise men. We want to remember those who died for our freedom in this country. We want to celebrate freedom from sin when Jesus rose from the dead. All good things that should be celebrated.
All of these holidays are things that we value as a society. So, why not celebrate a moment in which 13% of Americans were freed from a horrific and terrible period of our history?
I think I might know why. Because it's uncomfortable to admit mistakes. It's uncomfortable to say that this shouldn't have happened - that our ancestors did something really evil. We'd rather push it aside.
Today, I challenge you to do the opposite of our ancestors, help right the wrong, and celebrate this day of freedom in our country.
Five Ways to Celebrate Juneteenth
If you've never celebrated before, you may be wondering what the traditions are. I know I was. Here's a short list that I put together through different resources on Google.
Have a barbecue and invite others to celebrate the holiday.
Eat red foods. Red represents the blood that was shed on the way to freedom.
Donate to a group in your community that is helping people who are oppressed.
Educate yourself. Read a book, listen to a podcast, or watch a movie having to do with Black history.
Praise God for freedom finally coming for all people in America on June 19, 1866.