It was a Monday morning, June 19, 1865. Union Major General Gordon Granger arrived on the island of Galveston, Texas with a proclamation: All enslaved people were now emancipated and free to leave the tyranny of slavery.
It is estimated that at this time, there were over 250,000 enslaved Black Americans living in Texas. This day, known as Juneteenth, has been celebrated for over 150 years, in remembrance of the end of slavery in Texas.
As a Black American, I have always found this day to be bitter sweet. For centuries, blacks were violated, treated as property, separated from their families, and forced to work and live in uninhabitable conditions. The end of slavery is definetly an occasion to celebrate. But what saddens me is that this news of emancipation came 2 years, 5 months, and 18 days after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had taken effect on January 1, 1863.
For almost two and a half years, blacks in Texas continued in the lifestyle of slavery simply because they had no idea they had been freed. They experienced two and a half years of physical and mental mistreatment; two and a half years of families being separated; two and a half years of unlivable, unsanitary conditions. So if you see me looking a bit distraught at a Juneteenth barbeque, this is why.
I’d like to say I can’t imagine living in slavery while I was actually free, but I don’t have to imagine it; I lived it. For years, I lived in slavery. I wasn’t being beaten and forced to work without pay, but I was being held bondage by chains I didn’t even know I had. I was in bondage to my sinful nature. I was being held by chains of defeat and destruction, but the worst part was that I knew I could have freedom. I knew about the freedom that was available through Jesus but I was choosing to stay enslaved.
I don’t have any statistical data or research for this next point, but I stand by it. When a person is not experiencing freedom when it has been made available to them, I believe it’s for one of two reasons: They are not aware of their freedom or they have chosen to remain in bondage.
Unlike me, the over 250,000 enslaved blacks in Texas had no idea that the invisible chains their “owners” used to keep them in bondage had been broken with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. They had no clue they were free.
Today as we celebrate Juneteenth, I’m reminded of not only of the freedom of my ancestors but also of the freedom I have in Christ. The chains that once bound me have been broken.