A Moment for Mission
“But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” —Romans 6:8, NRSVUE
Just two years ago, Juneteenth, also called “Freedom Day,” became a federal holiday. On that day, we celebrate the end of slavery in the United States. The name combines “June” and “19.” Before the American Civil War, slaves were often sold at auctions. When family members were bought by different owners, they became separated.
The issue of slavery divided the United States and was one of the main causes of what we also call “the War Between the States.” The Northern (Union) and Southern (Confederacy) states fought from April 1861 to April 1865. On Jan. 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed[A1] the Emancipation Proclamation that announced that all enslaved people in the Confederate states were to be freed. However, two years later, many enslaved people in Texas had not heard the good news. They continued to do backbreaking, punishing work for no pay.
On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger and about 2,000 Union soldiers entered Galveston, Texas. Some of the soldiers were former members of the United States Colored Troops. As freed slaves, they joined the Union Army to fight for their people’s freedom.
Granger read Order No. 3, telling the people that they were free. They knelt in prayer and gratitude and shouted for joy. They walked out of cotton fields and plantation kitchens to start new lives. Leaving with few possessions, many were befriended by Union soldiers.
The former slaves looked forward to owning their own land or being paid for their labor, getting an education and learning to read and write. Some gave themselves new names to represent their new lives.
Juneteenth became a state holiday in Texas in 1980. More than 40 years later, it was declared a federal holiday.
On Juneteenth, African American people remember their ancestors with special worship services and other events. Honoring African American culture and history, they listen to readings of the Emancipation Proclamation and sing the Black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (UMH #519).
On June 19—Juneteenth—we celebrate the end of slavery in the United States. You probably have heard about some of the African American leaders of that time.
One leader was Isabella Baumfree. She was born into slavery around 1797 and she was a slave to at least four men before she escaped with her baby daughter. In 1843, she changed her name to Sojourner Truth. During the Civil War, she worked hard to help Black soldiers in the Union Army and met with President Abraham Lincoln at the White House.
Another leader from that time was Araminta Ross. She was a slave with her parents on a Maryland plantation and she changed her name to Harriet Tubman. She had been in slavery since she was five years old and she worked hard to be free. She escaped and traveled 90 miles from Maryland to Pennsylvania through the Underground Railroad, which wasn’t actually a train but a group of hidden paths and safe houses used by slaves to escape. She made lots of trips back to Maryland and led over 300 people to freedom.
Born in 1848, Susie King Taylor was the first Black Army nurse during the Civil War. When she was seven, Susie and her brother went to live with their grandmother and they went to a secret school for Black people. She learned to read and write there. Even though it was against the law, she taught slaves to read. Later in her life, she worked as a nurse. She also worked with the founder of the American Red Cross, Clara Barton.
Your library probably has many books about Juneteenth and African American heroes throughout history. It’s a wonderful place to learn about Black people who have made—and continue to make—a difference in the world.
Let’s talk about this:
- What is Juneteenth?
- Who are some of the African American heroes you’ve learned about in school?
- Why is it important to celebrate Juneteenth?
Source: “Brave. Black. First.: 50+ African American Women Who Changed the World” by Cheryl Willis Hudson
Loving God, thank you for the gift of freedom. Remind us often to appreciate the right to act, speak and think as one wants, without hindrance or restraint. Amen.
From Discipleship Ministries: Fourth Sunday after Pentecost — Generous, giving God: the gifts we present this day are supposed to represent the best of our discipleship. Why then do we hide what we give, and why do we worry about who might know? Grant us the boldness we need to move out of the dark and proclaim our decision to be Christ’s disciples to all, to shout it from the rooftops. May we speak to those we know and even to strangers of the love of Jesus without fear. May the way we live our lives be a proclamation of our decision to follow Christ! In His holy name, we pray. Amen. (Matt 10:24-39)
Since 2021, Juneteenth—June 19—has been a federal holiday in the United States. Here are a few ideas for celebrating:
- Host a community gathering at your church. Invite choirs from predominantly African American churches to provide special music that represents their culture and heritage. Be sure to include information about The United Methodist Church’s stand against racism.
- Ask guest speakers from the NAACP and other groups to share their stories.
- Introduce community activists and other people who make a difference.
- Listen to the Emancipation Proclamation.
- Sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (UMH #519).
- Sponsor an essay contest focusing on the meaning of freedom.
- Honor leaders from the past and discuss ways to keep working for equality for all people.
- Perform plays about the events that led to Juneteenth.
- Share Black family art, photos and stories.
- Have a community fair, providing information about area opportunities, such as summer camps, that encourage diversity.
- Have block parties, games, parades and picnics.
- Recruit people of all ages to create anti-racism posters.
- Register people to vote. Sometimes, all it takes is a nudge and a reminder.
Juneteenth is a special day for all people to celebrate and express gratitude for the gift of freedom.