“But does not man call to mind that We created him before out of nothing?” – Qur’an, 19:67
Slavery in America is, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, the world’s “peculiar institution” of slavery. It’s a form of slavery that lasted for 300 years that is unbeknownst to mankind before or since that period. A slavery so thorough and brutal that it produced a brand new people who were no longer fully African, nor fully American. A people lost in limbo with no independence of family names, religion, culture, government and other life-giving essentials needed to claim one’s true freedom.
When Gen. Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, 2 1/2 years after President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation, Gen. Granger’s reading of General Order No. 3 to the free and enslaved people was a momentous, historical achievement toward America — as a nation — fulfilling her promise of “liberty for all.”
However, history has recorded that General Order No. 3 was a far cry from freedom, justice and equality for the former Africans who still were not yet fully Americans.
Juneteenth is just a beginning point, not an arrival of complete freedom; not for the newly emancipated inhabitants of plantations. General Order No. 3 in part reads, “… 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.” However, this same general order concludes with telling the newly “freed slaves” to remain at their present homes (plantations) and “work for wages.”
Juneteenth is a day for celebration, of advancement, but it is not a celebration of a victory. Juneteenth is a time to recognize the commencement of a new people, a “lost-found” people who are trying to find their way to wholeness, to completion — toward a fulfilment of their G_d-given destiny as a new people in America, the world.
More than a century after President Lincoln signed the historical Emancipation Proclamation, a great African American leader publicly exposed the ineffectiveness of Lincoln’s Jan. 1, 1863, proclamation to free the Negro (African American). Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. declared in August of 1967, speaking to the National Association of TV and Radio Announcers in Atlanta, “If we’re going to be truly free, nobody else can do that for us. No Lincolnian Emancipation Proclamation can do that for us. No Johnsonian civil rights bill. If we’re going to be truly free, we must reach down into the inner depths of our being, and sign with the pen and ink of assertive manhood, our own emancipation proclamation.”
Dr. King understood that achieving true freedom requires a declaration, a self-determined consciousness that recognizes our G_d-given duty to free your individual self from being dominated by another man. Dr. King and others promoted that a mere Emancipation Proclamation is not self-determined freedom. It is a man-given status that often leaves the recipient beholding — not to G_d — but beholding to the man or group that issued the proclamation.
As descendants of the Africans who were enslaved in America, we must take control of Juneteenth, its history as well as the narrative and destiny of Juneteenth. We should make Juneteenth a discipline, or a vehicle, for taking us to a dignified station in life — a reparations (repairing) due to a new people that were created by the evils of slavery.
Juneteenth is the commencement of a new people, not a 24-hour period for eating barbecue, drinking alcohol and partying. To engage Juneteenth as “another day off of work” is a betrayal to the 300-plus years of slavery our foreparents unjustly endured. Yes, Juneteenth is a new start for a new people!
Twenty-one years ago, on June 22, 2001, Imam W. Deen Mohammed made the following comment regarding observing Juneteenth. “The day for observing Juneteenth is approaching. All African Americans, or Blacks in America, should know about this observance day. Our history as Americans and as Muslims had developed to unite us again with the Motherland, Africa. It is a new life we want for ourselves as descendants of Africa in America. Recently, we made a statement expressing these deep sentiments, the statement is: ‘A commitment to continue in the best tradition of the African American struggle for improvement on self and race.’” Imam Mohammed concluded, “This is expressed in the language, ‘New Africa.’ Juneteenth observance gives us an opportunity to publish our best sentiments and preserve this day that celebrates our Emancipation. The Emancipation process must continue until we are free spiritually as well as bodily.”
Chapter 19:67 of the Qur’an, translated as, “But does not man call to mind that we created him before out of nothing?” is a reminder of the resurrection (or renewal) of a people from what appears to be “nothing.” This peculiar institution of slavery was designed to reduce our foreparents to nothing. It was out of this nothing-ness that a new people were created. Juneteenth is that special time for celebrating the commencement of a new people in America and the world.
Michael “Mikal” Saahir is the resident Imam of Nur-Allah Islamic Center. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 317-753-3754.