“Hold those things that tell your history and protect them. During slavery, who was able to read or write or keep anything? The ability to have somebody to tell your story is so important … it says: I was here.” -Maya Angelou
“So if the Son sets you free, you are free through and through.” -John 8:36
“I prayed for freedom for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.” -Frederick Douglass
This weekend is an observance of two special days: Father’s Day and Juneteenth. One of my special conversations with my father is about Juneteenth and its significance. This day is very special to my heritage and upbringing. My parents are both from Texas, and it represents my history and roots.
Juneteenth was first celebrated in Texas on June 19, 1866. This was the first anniversary of the day that African Americans in Texas learned of the Emancipation Proclamation, more than two years after it was initially issued. Juneteenth was recognized as a federal holiday in 2021. More than two decades earlier, Juneteenth was made a state holiday in Texas. However, for more than a century prior since 1866, this has day has ALWAYS been celebrated. Even though Juneteenth items may be showing up in major stores and media for the first time, Juneteenth has been acknowledged and celebrated for over 155 years. Juneteenth is not a new thing; it is a true thing.
Several years ago our family journeyed to Texas for a family reunion and gathered at the site where my ancestors received the news. We celebrated the legacy that they carried and how they impacted their community. The Texas Historical Society had erected a plaque that celebrated the legacy of our ancestors. They established their own surnames for their descendants; they wanted to create new names for their descendants. My father taught us that Spencer is the name given by my ancestors. They created and built a school and a church. We worshipped in the building over 150 years later. This was a tangible reminder of the significance and impact of Juneteenth. It represents the story of African American ancestors in Texas who received the news in 1865 and those who received it earlier. We honor their sacrifices and how they honored freedom.
We can honor this day:
• Learn the history/attend celebrations — Juneteenth is celebrated in Texas, but it’s still new to many people. Use this as an opportunity to gain experience on the history of Juneteenth and spread the word about it. This is part of our history. There are virtual and in-person celebrations; connect with community. Learn more at juneteenth.com.
• Watch episode four of the documentary “High on The Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America.” The episode is entitled “Freedom” and takes us on a Juneteenth journey to Texas.
• Support Black-owned businesses — We are the evidence of our ancestors’ prayers and fulfillment of their dreams. Support the creativity, originality and gifts of Black-owned businesses this season and all year round.
• Honor the elders — Take time to sit at the feet of the sages in your family and community. Honor and soak up their wisdom as they pour into you. When an elder dies without sharing their story, it is the equivalent of a library burning down with books that have never been read. Honor their faith in Christ and commitment to prayer.
This weekend, I plan to honor this day along with thousands by participating in The Mass Poor People’s & Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly & Moral March on Washington. Dr. Cornell West says that justice is what love looks like out loud. Scriptures remind us that faith without works is dead (James 2:20). I will honor my ancestors by praying and marching with my feet.
In the words of my father, “Juneteenth may be new to many people, but Juneteenth has celebrated for over a century … long before it became a federal holiday. Always hold and honor the significance of the day. It is not new, it’s true.”
Blessed to be a blessing to you,
Rev. Sheila P Spencer
Rev. Sheila P. Spencer is an author, poet, teacher and preacher. You can contact her at CustomMadeInspiration@gmail.com and her website is www.sheilapspencer.com.