Juneteenth – A Refelection
I have never celebrated Juneteenth-June 19th. Nor did I know anything about it’s history until I started reading about it and its significance as it became a federal holiday. I am originally from the Caribbean, so freedom and independence for me have meant very different things. Slavery was abolished in the British Caribbean on 1 August 1834 following legislation passed the previous year. But though slavery was abolished, freedom did not come immediately. The enslaved people still had to deal with a period of apprenticeship [a system which forced formerly enslaved people to continue to work uncompensated for their former masters] until that ended in 1838. Even after the end of slavery and apprenticeship the Caribbean was not totally free as abolition was a progressive process which and lasted over an entire century. The first abolition being in Haiti in 1793 and the last in Cuba in 1886. But our countries still celebrate the official Emancipation Day on August 1st.
Many historians believe that the abolition process in the islands had much to do with their movement towards independence which began with my own country, Trinidad and Tobago and the island of Jamaica in 1962. I remember well the night the Union Jack was lowered, and we witnessed with much joy and celebration the raising of the red, black and white flag of the independent country of Trinidad and Tobago for the first time. What a thrill that was even though I did not fully grasp its meaning.
As we move to celebrate Juneteenth at St. Paul’s I am reminded of the importance of freedom. Freedom not only from oppression, but freedom of thought, freedom of worship, freedom to be who we identify as, freedom to love whom we love and to marry whom we love, freedom for women over our own bodies. All the things we sometimes take for granted and hold dear and are important to our sense of selfhood. Just think of what this must have meant to those who received the news that they were at long last free in Galveston, Texas in 1865!!
As we celebrate Juneteenth as a community for the first time let us all think of what this means to us as a faith community who believe in Radical welcome. What does that freedom look like within our community and is each of us being called to do to maintain that freedom as people in the Caribbean, the United States and else still fight for justice and repair?
So, as we celebrate on Sunday wear red, black or green the colours of the inspired Juneteenth flag. The red represents the blood that was shed, black is for the colour of skin of those who gave their lives, and green is for the ground upon which African American proudly stand free.
Or if you prefer, wear the colours of the original Juneteenth flag of red, white and blue which depicts a bursting new star on the horizon. The star represents a new freedom, a new people, a new star. The red, white and blue colours are meant to communicate that the American enslaved people, and their descendants are all Americans. Whatever you choose to wear, just come and celebrate with us.