We commemorate this anniversary of Juneteenth (“June” plus “nineteenth”), when Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas and declared the abolition of slavery—albeit two years after the Emancipation Proclamation and two months after the end of the Civil War. On June 19, 1865, the Union army made its way to Galveston, Texas, where General Gordon Granger declared that the Civil War had ended and issued General Order No. 3, which stated:  “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves…”

With their freedom, a dark chapter in American history closed and hope burned bright.  Yet optimism was soon tempered by the realization that although free, Black Americans continued to face racial discrimination, inequality, and violence. Descendants of the slaves in Galveston were legally free, but they discovered change comes slowly.

The past centuries have demonstrated that the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not equally guaranteed for all Americans. More recently, the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others—are reminders that racial injustice and systemic racism, continue to exist in our nation. Despite these inequities, Juneteenth has always been a day dedicated to praying and bringing families together with a determined hope for the future.

The battle for racial equality continues. Juneteenth serves as a celebration of Black freedom gained following slavery. It is a recognition of Black American life and resilience, and honors the contributions of Black Americans to this country. Juneteenth is also a reminder that much remains to be done.

Frank A. James III, DPhil, PhD
President and Professor of Historical Theology
Missio Seminary