Juneteenth (June 19th) became a federal holiday by law in June 2021 when President Joe Biden signed the “Juneteenth National Independence Day Act”. Juneteenth commemorates the end to chattel slavery […]

Juneteenth (June 19th) became a federal holiday by law in June 2021 when President Joe Biden signed the “Juneteenth National Independence Day Act”. Juneteenth commemorates the end to chattel slavery in the United States which was announced in Galveston, Texas, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. For Black Americans this is also referred to as their “Black Fourth of July”, “Freedom Day”, or “Emancipation Day”. This is one of the most significant, yet overlooked and under-celebrated day in our American history. So little attention is given to the most egregious things our country has done to millions of African children, women and men enslaved here for hundreds of years. While Juneteenth is a festive day to celebrate the freedom that was announced on June 19, 1865, it is also a day to commemorate and mourn the freedom that was kept from hundreds of thousands of enslaved persons who were kidnapped from their country and suffered the brutal and inhumane enslavement in the United States. Slavery – enslavement – needs to be more than a word. It needs to have a human face.

It is difficult to imagine the horrific suffering enslaved African Americans endured. But, I feel responsible for telling their story as I prepare to celebrate Juneteenth. Assuming this personal responsibility came in the early 1960’s of my senior year in high school (decades ago) when we were asked to write an essay on our hero. I wrote: “MY HERO: DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. I was passionate about knowing more and more about him. I voraciously read about the Civil Rights Movement, about those in the Movement who courageously walked alongside Dr. King, about those leaders who were assassinated for their beliefs and work in the Movement, and my search was endless. I asked myself: “How can my life make a difference?” As I delved deeper into the history of the African Americans, I came to know their story of enslavement in the United States. My heart has always carried the burden of grief and sadness for the unbearable and unimaginable inhumanity they experienced.

Alongside my ongoing reading and studying, I have been invited into numerous families of Black Americans and Black Bahamians whose ancestors were enslaved. I have never been treated separately as a white person; rather I have been a friend welcomed into families to share with them their anniversaries, birthdays, deaths, baptisms, traumas and blessings. I am a baptismal godmother for several children. I have listened to many family members share accounts of how their ancestors were enslaved. (I have witnessed and felt how they, too, experience enslavement.) I have promised to tell their story.

As I listened to story upon story I wondered: how did their enslaved ancestors endure the inhumanity of slavery? Jesus. It was their relationship with Jesus that gave them the courage and strength to live through the humiliation of being sold and purchased, the agony of families being separated – children from parents, husbands from wives – the brutality of being shackled, flogged and lynched. They viewed Jesus not only as a suffering servant and friend who understood oppression but also as a conquering king who, through the power of His resurrection could overcome even the most oppressive structures. They believed they were valuable in the eyes of Jesus whose life and struggles paralleled their own. In Jesus, they felt safe and loved. How greatly inspired I am by their deep and enduring faith and love!

I share a passion with the Black community in celebrating and commemorating Juneteenth. Will you join me and all our Black friends, sisters and brothers? Perhaps you can read a book or article written by a Black author, or listen to a Negro Spiritual, or say a prayer of gratitude for the millions of enslaved African Americans who gave so much of themselves to make our nation what it is today in spite of their horrific experiences. Or… perhaps you can smile at someone and say “HAPPY JUNETEENTH!”

-Sandy Setterlund

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