What's the big deal?

Juneteenth Celebrates a Great American Victory

Photo by Brett Sayles on

I love my country.  We are a beautiful land filled with incredible people, and I am grateful to be an American.  

Juneteenth is a new holiday for me, and I’m still figuring out how to celebrate it.  But along with Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day, it celebrates the very best of the United States of America.  

First, what is Juneteenth?  

The word comes from combining “June” and “nineteenth.”  Legally, slavery ended on January 31, 1865, when the U.S. Senate ratified the 13th Amendment.  But in practice, slave-owners held people in slavery for as long as they possibly could, often until Union agents showed up to enforce emancipation.  For example, one Texas slaveholder said he would eventually tell “his” slaves they were free, but “not until after another crop or two.” On June 19th, General Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas and announced that the 200,000 Black people kept in bondage across the state were emancipated.  

Juneteenth has been a local and then state-wide holiday ever since, and in recent years, cities across the country have adopted official Juneteenth festivals and parades.  

Juneteenth celebrates American freedom.

I think we’re missing something when we say “slaves celebrated their freedom on Juneteenth.” Let’s rephrase it: Americans celebrated their freedom.

It somehow hits you differently, right?  

By the time the Civil War ended, it had already been illegal to import slaves from Africa for fifty-seven years.  That means most of the Americans celebrating their freedom had been born in the U.S. and had never known any other country—they were as American as apple pie.

Americans were tortured, forced into labor, and separated from their families. Over 4 million Americans survived and overcame crimes against humanity.

Imagine what it would be like if 4 million Americans were held prisoner  in an Al Qaeda labor camp. It would be a big deal when our troops finally saved them and set them free. 

It would be something we’d remember, talk about, and celebrate.  

That’s what Juneteenth is.  Juneteenth is equal to any other world victory for liberty.  It’s a big deal.  Shouldn’t we all celebrate it?

We remember.

On Pearl Harbor Day, we solemnly remember the U.S. soldiers who sacrificed their lives for our freedom.  It doesn’t matter that it was long ago, it is good and fitting that we acknowledge them.  

On September 11th, can you imagine the day passing without mention?  It was another “day of infamy” with ripple effects that changed everything from air travel to baseball games.  We grieve together on the anniversary each year, bound by the trauma that we shared.  Sometimes memorial services include a reading of the names of the nearly 3,000 people who died.  We say, “Never forget.”  

Juneteenth is a way of saying, “The Black people who endured slavery are worth remembering, too.  They are important.  Never forget.”  

It’s a chance for us to celebrate freedom, but it’s also a chance for us to grieve, as we do on 9/11.  It’s a day to acknowledge the trauma and ripple effects from 250 years of slavery.  It’s a day to remember patriots like Harriet Tubman, and others who sacrificed their safety and sometimes their lives for American freedom.  It doesn’t matter that it was long ago, it is good and fitting that we acknowledge them.

Juneteenth is especially important if we want our nation to honor the Lord.

On a personal level, Christianity isn’t about strength or power, or even about being the most righteous.  Christianity is all about acknowledging your sins and accepting God’s grace.  

If we’re a Christian nation, we must boast in our weaknesses so that God can be our strength.  We must not gloss over slavery and its legacy, but rather freely talk about our nation’s sins, knowing that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more (Romans 5:20).  We’ll praise God—not just for delivering Black people from slavery, but for setting our whole country free from that stronghold of Satan.

Can white people celebrate Juneteenth?

Yes, it’s okay! But like any holiday, there are respectful and disrespectful ways to celebrate, and good intent doesn’t absolve negative impact.  Read up on it.  

One important way to celebrate is also really fun: get some kids involved.  If you have grandkids, nieces and nephews, or even a few neighborhood kids running around, light some sparklers with them!  My young daughters astutely identified Juneteenth as an opportunity to make special cupcakes with lots of sprinkles, so that will probably become one of our traditions.  Get some library books about abolitionists and Juneteenth. Tell them that as an American, you celebrate everybody’s freedom.  And don’t we all want a reason to have another party these days? 

End the day by ordering a copy of Annette Gordon-Reed’s most recent book, On Juneteenth.  It’s short, easy-to-read, and absolutely fascinating—especially if you like Texas history!

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