Story matters! Yet this reflective treatise does not intend to regurgitate the full histories that shroud the shoulders of Juneteenth. In the metaphoric language of Delores S. Williams, this synoptic musing is an echo from the wilderness and the ancestral voices of the Faith that attested “if it had not been for the Lord on our side….” Faith in the God of liberation paved the crooked road of our collective survival—pre, during, and post American enslavement of Black bodies from Africa.
Juneteenth is a celebration and reclamation of our freedom—of Africans in America. Reflective of the wisdom of Dubois; it was the blood of our enslaved ancestors who fertilized the grounds of this nation that deeded us the right to possess not only forty acres, but entitlement to declare reparative justice. Moreover, the blood of our mothers and fathers shed on the proverbial crosses of southern fields and plantations, makes it incumbent upon us as a people to forge a path of perpetual freedom of all people. Let us not lose sight that this land is the land of an exploited and marginalized people who have the inherent right to reclaim that which was occupied by those of a darker hue long before Columbus and colonization. Juneteenth is therefore an awakening of consciousness of those who have been lullabied by the symphony of the so-called post racial society and tucked in tightly at night by a colonized theology of peacemaking without prophetic admonishment and the denunciation of social and racial injustices as Jesus demonstrated unto his death. Juneteenth is a day of reimagined hope and the loosening of chains that once defined the humanity and ontological rights of God’s image in both ebony and crimson.
What then shall we say? Liberative theology has forever undergirded the movement toward freedom of those enslaved in America. Gayraud Wilmore stated that the independent Black church was the first public freedom movement, and with such historical reality paired with James Cone’s Black Theology that purports “God is on the side of the oppressed” demands the theological claim that emancipation is a divine activity, no matter the hand that pens such policy or declaration. Although political bantering and ecclesial delineations bark loudly as to drown out the cries that both freedom and justice continue to be delayed and denied; the prophetic voice, whether from the ambo of the Black Church or the crate constructed pulpits in the public square or clandestine communities, pronounces an unapologetic liberative theology. The praxis of this theological claim denounces oppression of every kind, and demonstrates the faith of Moses, Vashti, and Jesus by constructing a new social norm that exalts Juneteenth as one result of good religion grounded in substantive theology, while aiming to create more days of freedom for all humanity.
Shaw University Divinity School – Office of the Dean and Faculty