How to Celebrate Juneteenth in a Week of Woe?


I had planned to write a joyful blog about the celebration today of Juneteenth, the 150th anniversary of when the news finally reached Texas that the Civil War had ended and the enslaved people were free.

I’m not feeling particularly joyful, though, in light of the murders of five beautiful souls Wednesday night in Charleston.

juneteenthJuneteenth is the oldest African-American celebration of the end of slavery. Of course, slavery should have ended in Texas at the time of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, but Texas was not a state to abide by any proclamations from President Lincoln. It was Major General Gordon Granger who finally brought the good news to Texas on June 19, 1865, with General Order #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 free laborer.”

Tonight I will be joining fellow members of the Berkshire County unit of the NAACP for a Juneteenth celebration and viewing of a documentary about James Baldwin. I don’t know how much we will be in the mood to celebrate, though.

Sunday is Father’s Day, and there are nine families who will have trouble celebrating that as well, I think. The Roof family will not be celebrating either, I have no doubt, but I do hope that Mr. Roof will be thinking in remorse about the gun he gave his unstable son for his birthday.

I’m keeping this short because if the words of my mouth do match the mediations of my heart, they will not be acceptable to God. Because I’m angry and sad on so many levels. I tried to organize a vigil last night in honor of the victims; through social media and e-mail, I reached out to at least a hundred area people. Three people came. At first I tried to excuse the others; well, 8:45 on a Thursday night probably isn’t a good time for people to come out. And then I thought, damn it, 10 or 10:30 wasn’t a good time Wednesday night for families to have to come out to identify or claim the bodies of their loved ones. Damn it, if we can’t sacrifice a half-hour to respond to a tragedy, how the hell are we going to begin to address the issues that lead to such tragedies?

The church bell tolled with a vengeance at 9 pm. I hope all who heard it were at least curious to know why it was tolling. It was tolling for Clementa Pinckney, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Ethel Lance, Cynthia Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, Susie Jackson, Myra Thompson, Daniel Simmons, and Depayne Middleton Doctor.

To you good people, my faith tells me that you are resting in peace and probably carrying on your work of building the kingdom. I honor you and rededicate myself to standing up against racism at every point in every place. I pray for your families, your church, your community, and your country. You did not intend to be martyrs, but martyrs you now are, and I pray that your martyrdom will be redeemed by right actions at the city, state, and national levels to wipe out the evil that took your lives.


2 thoughts on “How to Celebrate Juneteenth in a Week of Woe?

  1. Debra

    I’d love to see Juneteenth become a bigger event. I wasn’t even aware of the holiday until I moved to Texas. We have so very far to go yet when it comes to the problem of racism.


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