What is Juneteenth (also known as “Emancipation Day”) and Why Do We Celebrate it as a Family? – California Southern Baptist Convention

What is Juneteenth (also known as “Emancipation Day”) and Why Do We Celebrate it as a Family?

Published Jun 06, 2023

On June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger would enter into Galveston, Texas, with his approximately 2,000, troops, open his mouth, and state with a loud voice to all persons assembled, the following words:

“The people are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free…”

These were the words proclaimed on June 19, 1865, of General Order No. 3 issued to the last group of enslaved persons who had yet heard of the good news of their newly won and hard-fought freedom.

This day would be memorialized as Juneteenth, which is June Nineteenth – the day of proclaimed freedom to the last group of enslaved persons in the U.S. who had not yet heard what others had already known in the Eastern part of the U.S.

We personally celebrate this holiday as a family because of its significance to American history. I remember my Grandmother (in honor of the freedom that her predecessors and others enjoyed after hearing the good news of the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation) reading to us and singing nursery rhymes to my sisters and me as toddlers through our early elementary years. The love of Jesus, reading, and education was passed down to her from her mother, and her mother’s love of Jesus, reading, and education was passed onto her by her parents, who were sharecroppers (and the children of freed persons who had been enslaved in Missouri who knew and valued the power of obtaining an education – even during their period of enslavement), which fostered our love of Christ, reading, learning, education, helping others, and achieving worthy goals in the family.

However, as a Christian, I celebrate this holiday because it can be easily seen as an illustration of the Believers’ mission with the Gospel of Jesus. For instance, when the Civil War ended (thus formal slavery ended), many formerly enslaved persons (including over 200,000, in the State of Texas) were unaware of this good news – that slavery had ended. It wasn’t until the good news reached them much later that they finally realized and enjoyed what was already true – that they were free!

Likewise, what good is good news if the goodness of the news remains unknown? “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

This is why we celebrate this parabolic holiday as a family, and I encourage others to research it and do so if they’re looking for great historical illustrations of the power of communicating unknown freedom.

While this holiday pales in comparison to Jesus’ saving Gospel — what a great reminder it is of the power of proclaiming good news to captives. “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners” (Isaiah 61:1).

(Photo credit: Grace Murray Stephenson via The Portal to Texas History, Pictured: an African American band on Juneteenth/Emancipation Day, June 19, 1900)