Celebrated on June 19, Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.
It honors June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, to announce that the Civil War had ended and that the enslaved were now free.
Why did it take two years after the Emancipation Proclamation and two months after the end of the Civil War to bring freedom to the enslaved in Texas? A lack of Union soldiers in Texas as well as a strong resistance against emancipation delayed their freedom. After Confederate General Lee surrendered in 1865, the Union was able to overcome the resistance with the arrival of Union General Granger and his troops to finally end unlawful slavery in every state.
Today, many use Juneteenth as a day of celebration, but many also use it as a day for education and reflection. As Catholics, Juneteenth is the perfect opportunity to materialize our belief in Catholic Social Teaching. Below are Catholic Social Teaching’s seven themes and questions to reflect on this Juneteenth.
1. Life and Dignity of The Human Person
Juneteenth celebrates the day when enslaved Black people were set free from all states. How can we uphold the sacredness of all lives in the present day where systematic racism persists?
2. Call to Family, Community, and Participation
“In Los Angeles County, African Americans represent 7.9% of the population. In the latest homeless count…Black people make up 34% of the 66,000-plus total.” (Los Angeles Times). How can we educate ourselves and our families to participate in a society that elevates the common good and well-being of all, especially the poor and vulnerable?
3. Rights and Responsibilities
“Every person has a fundamental right to life and a right to those things required for human decency.” (Catholic Community Services) How can we use our rights to make sure others can exercise theirs?
4. Option for The Poor and Vulnerable
St. Vincent de Paul, patron saint of charitable societies, once said, “Go to the poor. You will find God.” When was the last time we gave away your own resources, whether it be money or time, to benefit those in need? How can we make volunteering or donating a normal part of our lives?
5. The Dignity of Work and The Rights of Workers
“The economy must serve people, not the other way around.” (Catholic Community Services) Do the businesses we support respect the basic rights of their workers?
We are all made in the image and likeness of God. How can we ensure that we remain a peacekeeper while also working out of love for all our brothers and sisters?
7. Care for God’s Creation
Humans are called to protect our planet. What changes can we make in my everyday life to be more eco-friendly and conscious of communities that suffer from pollution?
Take time this Juneteenth to celebrate the end of slavery in the United States, but as Catholics, we know that work is not done. Let us use today to learn, reflect, act, and pray for an end to racism and an end to the legacy of slavery.