[To extend the celebration of Juneteenth a bit, I re-present a piece written in 2020, before the holiday was federally recognized.]
Jesus preached the good news that the Kingdom of God had arrived to end the anguish of history—and that Word has not ceased to resound. The last slaves in the former Confederacy to hear the good news of the Emancipation Proclamation and, indeed, Union victory in the Civil War, finally heard the glad tidings of their freedom from bondage on June 19th, 1865.
Juneteenth is a second Independence Day for America, without which July 4th would be robbed of its truth—the truth that all humans are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.
America needs Juneteenth as a national holiday, for the work of emancipation has not been completed. We need this day to inspire us to destroy, finally, the systemic racism that is our nation’s original sin: the racism that, say, subjects Black Americans to levels of intimate and intrusive, and therefore volatile, policing no white community would ever tolerate. Police departments did not set up the rules of the game. We the People do. These are political decisions. It is up to each of us to change the rules, so that the dignity of each human might be safeguarded. We must reimagine policing as part of realizing the American proposition.
There is a great cry of the heart; the Black heart is beating loudly—and we all must take heed. As Martin Luther King said in 1967: “But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.” Emancipation has not really been achieved. Now is the time. Though everything must be transformed: now is the time.
This year’s Juneteenth coincides with the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is fitting. In such a year of reckoning, during such a contest for the American soul, let us take to heart, within that Heart that bleeds especially for the most vulnerable, the truth that America cannot be America until Black lives matter for all of us.
Let our hearts remember the hidden suffering. Let our hearts break for the anguish of Black lives lost, beaten down, disrespected. Let our hearts sing the freedom-song of God’s Kingdom of limitless love—sing and dream a dream of America where Truth has set us all free.