This Sunday, June 19th 2022, marks 156 years since the origin of the Juneteenth holiday on June 19 1866. And it is only the second year that Juneteenth is recognized as a Federal holiday.
Perhaps like many white Americans you are not acquainted with Juneteenth’s significance to our nation’s past and our present.
Perhaps you weren’t previously acquainted with hymn 593 in our own black-covered New Century hymnbook, Lift Every Voice and Sing, or with its other name, The Black National Anthem.
This is a perfect opportunity to learn.
Juneteenth was created in 1886 by freed Black Americans in Galveston, Texas, to mark the date on which enslaved people in Galveston first learned of the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1 1863, two and a half years after the fact, on June 19th 1865. In keeping with its origin — marking freedom long sought and prayed for; cruelly delayed even further after slavery was abolished — it is both a somber day of remembrance and recommitment to justice, and a celebratory day to cherish the blessings of liberty.
The hymn Lift Every Voice and Sing [click the link for complete lyrics and further history] began as a poem which was later set to music and called the Negro National Hymn; it became hugely popular among Black Americans and was named the official song of the NAACP a century ago.
Both the holiday and the hymn continue to resonate powerfully today in light of our nation’s continued resistance to full realization of the Declaration of Independence’s assertion that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are inalienable, God-given human rights [click the link to read on to the less frequently memorized and recited litany of complaints against the Oppressions of the British crown, and to consider how many of those complaints are justly laid at the door of our own government].
As we head into the Juneteenth weekend, you may want to observe the holiday by spending a few moments Saturday, Sunday, or Monday — when the Federal holiday is observed — prayerfully contemplating the parallels and contrasts between the July 4th Independence Day holiday and Juneteenth, between the Star Spangled Banner and Lift Every Voice and Sing, between the present day lived experiences of white and Black Americans.
You may want to lift up the Poor People’s Campaign Moral March on Washington, working to address many of our country’s lingering Oppressions [click the link to learn more, donate, or take action].
You might want to set aside a portion of the weekend on your own or with your family to learn more about the many ways that inequity and inequality are structurally encoded in politics, finance, healthcare, and every other aspect of American life. If you don’t know where to begin, there are many options, including [click links for more information]:
Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
That is reason to Lift every voice and sing [click link for Winston-Salem State University choir performance] this Juneteenth and every day.
— Julianne Zimmerman, on behalf of the Racial Justice Working Group: Anne Hoenicke, Jonathan Goodell, Kaye Nash, Sarah Gallop, Jerry Mechling, Will Burhans, and Judy Arnold (emerita)