[Video] Why we celebrate Juneteenth

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In the USA, June 19th is the Juneteenth holiday. In my opinion, Juneteenth is probably more important than America’s Independence Day on July 4th.

The American Civil War raged from 1861 to 1865 and killed as many American soldiers as ALL other wars and conflicts combined, including both World Wars. In the middle of this tragic war, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, and it began the slow liberation of American slaves from the metal shackles of indignity.

On June 18, 1865, the Union north occupied the last rebel state: Texas. On Juneteenth, the occupying general announced that all slaves in Texas were free. Juneteenth is the fulfillment of the Emancipation Proclamation’s gradual freeing of over 3.5 million Americans from slavery and the near end of the deadliest American war. In contrast, America’s Independence Day marks the beginning of a war and the birth of a nation; in the new nation, some people gained more freedoms, but too many stayed shackled.

In world history, Juneteenth is a significant milestone in the battle to end slavery: today, slavery is nearly eradicated. The absence of slavery, however, does not mean that people are free.
Less than 20 years after Juneteenth, American Poet Emma Lazarus was disturbed by the violent anti-Semitism in Europe. She told other American Jews, “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” She was not speaking of slavery but instead was speaking of the lack of freedom and security that plagued many Jews. The truth of her message is too powerful to confine to one group of people.

Almost exactly 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote the brilliant “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Like Lazarus, he wanted more than just the absence of slavery—he wanted freedom. He wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

On this Juneteenth, celebrate the decline of slavery and the expansion of civil rights, and similar to the time of the original Juneteenth announcement and celebration, remember that many of our brothers and sisters still lack freedom.

Advocate for freedom, for example: speak out against corruption in, and the slow advance of orthodox Islam into, the Turkish government; stop discriminating against people based on whom they want to kiss (e.g., support marriage rights for all adults); demand that wealthy countries do something about child soldiers in sub-Saharan Africa; support civil rights for the many different peoples in Southeast Asia suffering under brutal regimes; stop and reverse the illegal ways that extreme Christian beliefs are forced into American law and policy; continue to fight against sexual abuse of women in Egypt; demand an end to discrimination against darker-skinned and native peoples that happens in most of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Juneteenth is a celebration of the removal of metal shackles from our friends. When we celebrate today, let us vow to help our friends remove their shackles that are made of debt, discrimination, corruption, and bullets.


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