Saturday, June 18, 2011


Another June 19 has cycled around on the calendar. That June 19 occurs Sunday this year is special, not only because it commemorates the black people's Independence Day, but it's an opportunity to reflect on Juneteenth's context from an Abrahamic historical perspective and how the tradition furthers the uniting of all peoples.
One of the influences in my life, Uncle J.C., early on instilled the spirit of Juneteenth in me. Juneteenth, the acronym for June 19, commemorates each year the liberation of former slaves in Texas as mandated June 19, 1865. It all began Jan. 1, 1863, at the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln.
The backstory for Juneteenth finds its origin in Galveston, Texas, where my roots are. My mom was born and raised in Galveston, and Uncle J.C. was the shaman and storyteller of our clan. My two brothers, two sisters and I told and retold the Juneteenth narrative: That at the end of the Civil War, Army Gen. Gordon Granger on June 19, 1865, in the city of Galveston declared the institution of slavery abolished in Texas -- the first joyous demonstrations by the freed blacks now known as Juneteenth.
Uncle J.C., a retired sleeping car porter, had his own version and motives about Juneteenth. And his motives may have been influenced by whatever he sipped out of his coffee cup. At any rate, he'd say, "You guys is scared of the man. Don't you understand? You ain't supposed to work on the teenth? Down home we'd shut the whole South down; and you couldn't even catch a bus on the teenth." We weren't dumb enough to believe all that Uncle J.C. claimed; we knew he was exaggerating. Nevertheless, he had a point.
Juneteenth is an achievement that needs to live on and be passed through the generations. Martin Luther King had a saying I think describes its magnitude. While addressing an audience after legislation was passed outlawing segregated buses in Mobile, Ala., King uttered "We're not gonna let this thing be that small. No! This thing is not just an achievement for just blacks, but rather milestone for all of humanity."
Today, throughout the Central Valley the Juneteenth tradition reaches out to the memory of César Chávez's suffering and the achievements of the migrant worker movement. The Juneteenth movement upholds the spirit of the nearby Japanese Yamato Colony and their overcoming internment during World War II. The Juneteenth legacy includes all the diverse peoples and cultures of the the Central Valley and everywhere else. Juneteenth remembers the Valley's Hmong and the Valley's Arab and Persian communities.
The point is that Juneteenth searches for the common ground among all peoples. That was what Uncle J.C.'s message really was. He understood the urgent need and necessity for a Sabbath. He just didn't know how to say it. Uncle J.C. not only taught us young men what the teenth meant; he sought to instill a faith and optimism in all the poor, and to those us living with our backs against the wall.
I point at Juneteenth from an African-American historical and theological perspective, and how it continues in the Abrahamic narrative tradition. Juneteenth draws the metaphorical parallels of former African slaves dispersed in America and the Diaspora periods of the Jews. Juneteenth redramatizes Moses leading the Israelites out of enslavement in Egypt and an almighty creator seeing and hearing their groaning and delivering them from catastrophe. Junetheenth draws courage from the Holocaust victims and survivors of at the hands of the Third Reich.
May this Sunday, June 19, 2011, 146 years after Gen. Gordon was sent to liberate the African-
American slaves in Texas, be a true inspiration to all peoples.
Finally, a warning: On the next Juneteenth -- Monday, June 19, 2012 -- don't pull an Uncle J.C. and call in sick to work; you may get fired! Uncle J.C. is where he can take getting fired.

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