Last year in the pandemic year of 2020, because of all the all the racial tension that had risen to the top of public consciousness, a little known holiday called Juneteenth was suddenly cast into the spotlight. It is an official holiday in Texas, but nowhere else in the United States, although 41 other contiguous states do recognise it. That is until on June 15, 2021, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday. It still needs to pass through the House and be signed by President Biden in order to become law. Which of course I think he’ll do. Martin Luther King Jr. has a national holiday in his honor, it seems fitting that the ending of slavery should be celebrated as widely as Dr. King.
On the first Juneteenth in Galveston, Texas June 19, 1865 Union army general Gordon Granger announced federal orders proclaiming that all slaves in Texas were free. This is over two years after the Emancipation Proclamation that the slaves in Galveston, Texas were finally informed of their freedom.
“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 personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.” —General Orders, Number 3; Headquarters District of Texas, Galveston, June 19, 1865
–What Is Juneteenth? African American History Blog | The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross (pbs.org)
Last year interestingly enough Juneteenth fell on the same day as the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus which is followed by the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. On the day slaves were pronounced free is the same day we celebrated and focused on the love of Jesus and Mary that they have on all mankind. He has come to set us free and to give us life to the full.
These other interesting things happen on June 19th.
- 325– The original Nicene Creed is adopted at the First Council of Nicaea.
- 1862– The S. Congress prohibits slavery in United States territories, nullifying Dred Scott v. Sandford.
- 1910– The first Father’s Day is celebrated in Spokane, Washington.
- 1964– The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is approved after surviving an 83-day filibuster in the United States Senate.
- 1988– Pope John Paul II canonized 117 Vietnamese Martyrs.
Faith and Fathers are remembered on this day.
And so in honor of this day, here is a Open Letter penned by my wife Kristin to African Americans.
Dear African Americans,
Hello, most of you don’t know me. Statically speaking almost none of you do. My name is Kristin Wilson. I was born and raised in the United States, though according to one of those spit collection tests I am primarily Irish, with skin white like snow covered in brown dots that look like they are trying to reach out to one another, otherwise known as freckles. I call it my Celtic pigment.
I am sorry for the way white people have treated you and your ancestors. I thought with Black History Month, a Two term mixed race – dark skinned President, and even Black Catholics in the U.S.A., that save a few fringe groups, racism toward African Americans was a thing of the past. I had no idea things in life were so hard for so many black people. I will admit it, I never even heard of Juneteenth until a couple of months ago. I guess I learned something from Trump after all. I do think it should be a national holiday. We should celebrate the end of Jim Crow laws too.
I did not know you were being paid less for doing the same job as a white person. I thought that too was a sad part of history, as opposed to today’s reality. How can I be so ignorant? Is it because I do not know what it is like to be black? Is it because we had so few black people in our town and public-school system?
Black people of all nationalities and all walks of life are wonderful people and I should learn more about them. As a Catholic we have many holy black men and women who have been honored with the title saint. May they pray for us in these turbulent times.
Together let us pray for change and also work for it.
God bless you.