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Theology Matters Part 8: Thank God for our liberation

There is a Jewish festival that lasts eight days, it starts on December 25 and commemorates the re-taking of Jerusalem and rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem in 165 B.C.

The uprising began with a family known as the Maccabees and became known as the Maccabean revolt against the Greek Seleucid Empire. The festival is called Hanukkah.

Many who are not Jewish see it as a religious holiday for Jewish people, but in reality it is what we might call a secular commemoration that honors the physical liberation of formerly subjugated people. It is a commemoration of a people who thank God for their liberation and honor those Jewish people who fought and won their liberation. They do not, however, give credit to their former oppressors for liberating them.

I mention this as the Juneteenth celebration approaches June 19 because there are religious people who will bifurcate the sacred and secular.

They will separate the religious from the physical. They will put the Juneteenth celebration in a secular category and miss the spiritual and religious roots of the meaning of Juneteenth. Incidentally, this is what many in the church have done to Kwanzaa. They see Kwanzaa as a secular ritual and beneath their religious routines when in reality they are flip sides of the same coin.

That is why I started out with the commemoration of Hanukkah and how other people see their physical deliverance from oppression as part of their religious theory and practice.

Juneteenth has now become a federal holiday, which means it is now being observed by Americans in general. I’m not sure making it a federal holiday was the best thing for Black people. I am convinced that in many ways it was a compromise to pacify Blacks following the uprisings that occurred in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, uprisings that were not only happening in America but worldwide, because the world was shut down due to a pandemic, and everybody saw the heinous and brutal murder of George Floyd. People were so incensed by it that protests all over the globe occurred as a result.

In fact, I want to close with a powerful anecdote concerning George Floyd and Juneteenth that was shared by Africana Studies Professor Greg Carr, which is told in the book “Juneteenth at Comanche Crossing,” by Doris Pemberton.

Dr. Carr first pointed out that Juneteenth, or what is known as Emancipation Day, is celebrated not only in the Southern portion of the United States, but in the Caribbean. Each August in places like Jamaica, Emancipation Day has been celebrated for many, many years, marking when Black people liberated themselves; it’s just not called Juneteenth.

In other parts of the south like Alabama and Arkansas, Emancipation Day is celebrated in May, why? It is because the Civil War was mostly fought in the east. Therefore, as the confederates were losing the war, they tried to escape with the Africans they held in bondage to the west, and when the war was ended the troops began marching from east to west to declare the news. All along the way African people organized celebrations of how they took their freedom depending on when they got the news that the war was officially over. They called their celebrations Emancipation Day, or Jubilee Day or Freedom Day.

This also debunks a myth that Africans did not know in advance of General Granger that the war was over. Africans in places like Galveston, Texas, already knew because Africans spread the word, but they could not just leave the plantations until the military support came through.

In Houston, Texas, there is a park called Emancipation Park in the Third Ward of Houston. The park property was purchased in 1872 by three formerly enslaved Africans for $1,000.

They purchased this property for the purpose of celebrating Juneteenth. One of the formerly enslaved who helped to purchase the property was a man by the name of Jack Yates. Yates was born in Virginia, but his wife had been sold away to a plantation in Texas. When the Civil War was over, Yates traveled across country, like so many other formerly enslaved Africans, to find his wife.

He found his wife in Texas, and they joined with the other two persons to purchase the property and named it Emancipation Park to commemorate African people liberating themselves. That park is the oldest park in Houston. And it is now a public park.

Yates was so revered that they named a high school after him. It is the Jack Yates High School in Houston, and George Floyd who used to live in Houston went to Jack Yates High School and most likely attended the Juneteenth celebrations at Emancipation Park.

Lastly, I point out that the formerly enslaved Africans did not celebrate the 4th of July, because they, like Frederick Douglass, who in his now iconic address in Rochester New York, 1852, on July 5th, asked the excoriating question, “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?” They would not celebrate the freedom of their oppressors when those same oppressors persecuted them.

Those Africans also saw that they liberated themselves with the help of God and not an Emancipation Proclamation that in reality intentionally did NOT free one formerly enslaved person. Lincoln could not free enslaved people in the south, and his proclamation ignored the enslaved in the north because he coveted the votes of white enslavers in the north.

Juneteenth is as much a religious or spiritual celebration as it is a secular commemoration. If God delivered God’s people from bondage in Egypt and Babylon, then it was God and the oppressed Black people in this country together who brought deliverance and liberation to Black people and not oppressors.

Thank God and thank Black people who fought and resisted in so many ways until Black people were free of chattel slavery.

Theology Matters!

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CLICK TO READ PART 7

Knowing The Truth - Part I
Rev. Dr. John E. Jackson Sr.

Rev. Dr. John E. Jackson, Sr. is the Senior Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ-Gary, 1276 W. 20th Ave. in Gary. “We are not just another church but we are a culturally conscious, Christ-centered church, committed to the community; we are unashamedly Black and unapologetically Christian.” Contact the church by email at [email protected] or by phone at 219-944-0500.

Knowing The Truth - Part I
Rev. John E. Jackson
Senior Pastor at | + posts

Rev. Dr. John E. Jackson, Sr. is the Senior Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ-Gary, 1276 W. 20th Ave. in Gary. “We are not just another church but we are a culturally conscious, Christ-centered church, committed to the community; we are unashamedly Black and unapologetically Christian.”

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