When did you first hear about our newest federal holiday?
I was well into my 70’s with the benefit of advanced education in both the United States and Europe. The event it commemorates was not mentioned in any history class I took or book I read. So much for my knowledge of American history!
But I was not alone. Dictionary searches for “Juneteenth” shot up 8,200 percent. A Gallup poll at the time tells us that more than 60 percent of Americans knew “a little bit” or “nothing at all” about Juneteenth.
My white-washed version of history
What I did not know…
- Less than 20 years before I was born, hundreds of African Americans, descendants of Cain and Abel, were massacred in what was then known as Black Wall St., one of many financial centers in other cities around the United States. Their neighborhood burned to the ground. All because of a rumor.
- Sixty years earlier, almost 200,000 African Americans served in the Civil War.
What else I did not know
Yet at that time, slaveholders censored whole sections of the bible, the “Slave Bible. Slaves were not allowed to read or listen to anything about the liberation of Israel from slavery. Slaveholders did not want their slaves to read about the liberation of Israel from slavery to the Egyptians.
From that perspective, imagine if, over the centuries, Jews had not been able to learn about the event so crucial to understanding their identity and existence.
The meaning of Juneteenth to African Americans
It took some three years after the Emancipation Proclamation for the news to reach African Americans in Texas. They celebrated!
I likened it to the time it could have taken the news of the Exodus to reach Jews living in outlying districts of Pharoah’s Egypt.
Also, imagine how long it took colonists in regions beyond the East Coast to learn that other colonists had not only declared Independence. They had also fought a war and won against all odds! (I only recently learned that without the help of Native American tribes, we would not have won the War of Independence. (Documents in the Museum of the American Revolution)
Why shouldn’t those of African American heritage… and all others … celebrate?
It should be clear they had cause.
But it should also be clear that there is reason for all of us to join the celebration. Just think about our traditions of celebrating Independence Day. We celebrate no matter what our national origin!
From that perspective, perhaps we can understand better what is at stake with similar celebrations today.
Unfinished business – the example of struggle for women’s rights
Women 100 years ago celebrated when they were finally recognized as equals to men.
But they are still struggling to be recognized for their talents.
There is a difference between recognizing a basic fact and understanding its implications.
Stereotypes still abound. Ask also about equal access to education and mentoring to learn the workings of the machinery of a corporate masculine culture.
They will also tell you about the importance of being mentored by those who have faced the lonely climb.
Mentoring is a key factor in moving up the corporate ladder. Any successful man recognizes the importance of mentoring and networking for jobs. Reverse the roles. Men recognize the need for mentoring in childrearing skills women take for granted.
We celebrate together… but we also remember it is a task for all.
The preface used in the liturgy celebrating our Independence might be apt… “task for today and a promise for tomorrow.
- Did you learn anything new from this reflection?
- Were there any new connections?
Click below for an early version of this Vincentian Mindwalk