My Juneteenth Reflection
Brought to you by a Black Muslim
In January 1865, the 13th Amendment formally abolished slavery in the United States. Nearly two years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, General Gordon Granger and Union soldiers traveled to Galveston, Texas, to bring the news that the Civil War had ended and enslaved Africans were free. June 19th marked the date that the word of freedom arrived. This date soon became known as Juneteenth, a date recognizing Black people’s emancipation from Euro-American chattel slavery. The first commemoration of Juneteenth took place in 1866. It has grown in various parts of the United States to signify more than the end of slavery.
In the 1890s, Juneteenth celebrations included questions about the “broader implications for citizenship,” and Black people strategized about securing voting rights and more extensive participation in the American political process. In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s March—a demonstration about economic justice—held a Juneteenth celebration as a way to address poverty and freedom by examining the past. Recently, the United States Senate passed a bill to establish Juneteenth as a national holiday. Locally, Orange County (!) will have events for Juneteenth in Anaheim and Santa Ana.
I find current attempts to identify Juneteenth as significant a tad bit cynical. It reminds me of Dr. King’s Day and Black History Month. They are gestures seeking to soothe the United States of America’s widespread disease, and I am not referring to the SARS-2 virus commonly known as COVID-19. I am talking about the United States’ issue(s) with systemic racism and many of its citizens’ difficulty (or resistance) acknowledging the disease’s presence.
In the Holy Qur’an, the Muslim scripture, there are various stories about previous Prophets (peace to them all). In addition, Muslims use an additional framework in their lives, the Prophetic Traditions of Muhammad. When engaging with society, all of these Prophets share a common theme: identifying evil and offering a healthy alternative. Below are some ideas Chapman University and its community members may consider adopting as it tries to grow, seeking to be a healthy member of society.
Stop being afraid to talk about racism. Encourage discussion on the concept of freedom. Deeply reflect on the strength, perseverance, and advancements of African slaves despite overt racism (i.e., during the days of slavery and after so-called “Emancipation”). Develop field trips to places like Tulsa, OK and various slave sites throughout the United States. Recognize that Black people’s history is not entirely equal to other ethnicities’ histories. Have honest conversations about criminal justice.
Juneteenth is a day of reflection. So, reflect.
Reflection by Rev. Nancy Brink
One of my favorite Disciples preachers, the late Rev. Dr. Fred Craddock, once gave a series of lectures at the Disciples Historical Society. Though this lecture took place decades ago, I will never forget his opening line: “Those who cannot remember before they were born, are orphans.”
I bring that wisdom to the celebration of Juneteenth this year.
You see, I grew up in west Texas, in a tiny town whose high school team is still the Hereford Whitefaces. I learned of the so-called War Between the States. Even the Holocaust was not part of my education about World War II. My school could have been featured in the best-seller, Lies My Teacher Told Me.
My life is an on-going re-education. Maybe that should be true for all of us—particularly White people.
As COVID hit and I was barred from the gym, I took to daily walks with audible books and almost all of the books have been about racism and critical race theory. Part of the fuel for this exploration was an inheritance from my father—enough money to finally have the needed 20% down to buy a home in Orange. Deeply grateful that my wife and I will be able to stay here in retirement, I knew that I likely would not have gotten that inheritance if I was Black. The stunning wealth gap between White and Black families, the result of many decades of policies and practice that has undercut Black homeownership and business, is at the core.
Juneteenth is the celebration honoring the proclamation of the end of slavery at Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865, some two months after the end of the Civil War. This announcement, delivered by Union General Granger, began the bloody and uneven process of releasing enslaved persons from their bondage. Many owners of enslaved people purposefully kept the knowledge of freedom a secret so they could continue to reap the economic benefits brought to them by slave labor.
Dominant culture has, for over 150 years, tried to obfuscate the oppression of Black people’s bodies and livelihoods, during slavery and after. Juneteenth is an intentional time to see this history with unblinking clarity. But what about for people of color? As Clint Smith says in his new book, How the Word is Passed, “Juneteenth was not only a celebration but a seizing of public memory.” And then he quotes historian Elizabeth Hays Turner: “Memories represent power to people who are oppressed, for while they cannot control much of what occurs in their lives, they can own their memories.”
The promised 40 acres and a mule continues to be unfulfilled for most Black Americans because of red lining, disparities in education and health care, and the daily intentional and unintentional insults that diminish their energy and spirits.
I commit this Juneteenth to continue my education on racism and my work to make systemic change here at Chapman and this community. I commit to telling the stories of White oppression so that my race can wake up and apologize and make amends in meaningful and impactful ways. I commit to doing my own anti-racist work as a core component of my service to this community.
I hope you will join me!