“How’s the heat treating you?” That’s a question I remember hearing when I was growing up in San Antonio, Texas. Although I’m Texas born and raised, I have never gotten used to the heat. It can be oppressive and down right stifling. Makes me want to stay still and find a cool spot to sprawl out in. Having said this, I also have an appreciation for the heat of Summer. It has a way of slowing me down, encouraging me to take life easy. The days of Summer are long and seem to drag by in my mind, probably because of how slow I’m going.
There is a real blessing in the slow pace, it gives me time to learn, and think, and even to become mindful of many things. One of the things I’m mindful of this week is that Sunday will be June 19th, or as any real Texan would properly know it, Juneteenth! Just as a refresher course, let’s review how this national holiday came into being. On June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger landed in Galveston, Texas. His first order of business was to read to the people of Texas General Order Number 3.
“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.”
Texas was the last state of the Confederacy with institutional slavery. As you can imagine, the celebrations on that day began a tradition that has lasted over 150 years, and has spread from Texas across the nation. On June 17, 2021, it was signed into law as a federal holiday. African-Americans commemorated this day in the beginning with church-centered community gatherings, but it has since become a festive remembrance of hard fought and won freedoms. It is a time for reflection and rejoicing. It is a time for assessment and looking not only at where we’ve come from, but where we yet need to go. As we mature as a nation, all of us must “acknowledge a period in our nation that shaped and continues to influence our society today. Sensitized to the conditions and experiences of others, only then can we make significant and lasting improvements to our society.”
As the heat continues unabated, I’m reminded July 4th is just around the corner. Another celebration of freedom in our country. I heard someone say we can’t properly celebrate Independence Day, without first celebrating Juneteenth. Although the July 4th celebration is older, it was only celebrating the freedoms for one segment of our society. When we grow sufficiently in our own moral conscience, we will come to know freedom is only real when it is extended to all persons. As Fannie Lou Hammer put it, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” And Martin Luther King, Jr., said it this way, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.”
As the heat of the days ahead drag on, let’s you and I remember all those who came before us who dedicated themselves to seeking out justice and freedom for all. The activists of every color, of every gender, of every orientation, of every background. We are indebted to them for their courage and tenacity. Let us drink deeply from the waters that sustained them, that we too are emboldened to act in ways that seek justice and freedom for all.
I truly hope you will have a very blessed Juneteenth celebration. The following prayer was found on the jesuitresource.org website, and it was adapted from the Racial Healing and Liturgical Resources of the Archdiocese of Baltimore…
“In celebration, we pray, O Lord, for change.
Jesus you revealed God through your wise words and loving deeds,
and we encounter you still today in the faces of those whom society has pushed to the margins.
Guide us, through the love you revealed,
to establish the justice you proclaimed,
that all peoples might dwell in harmony and peace,
united by that one love that binds us to each other, and to you.
And most of all, Lord, change our routine worship and work into genuine encounter with you and our better selves so that our lives will be changed for the good of all.”
Your fellow traveler on the Way,