The Gift of Presence
For nearly two weeks, those of us in the Saint Paul Area Synod have been blessed by the presence of ou[...]
Last month I read Annette Gordon-Reed’s latest book, On Juneteenth. I chose her Pulitzer Prize-winning book because I recognized how little I knew about this annual celebration within the African American community.
From its inception as a local celebration in Texas, Juneteenth recognizes the announcement on June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, of the end of legalized slavery in that state. That milestone came two years after President Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and came several months after the formal surrender of the Confederacy at the end of the Civil War. The legal end to the institution of slavery would come in Dec. 6, 1865, with the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
We know that the power of that system of enslavement did not end with the passage of legislation. Even today we seek to address this horrendous legacy of human slavery in the inequitable access to opportunities across our society.
When President Biden made Juneteenth (June 19) a federal holiday this year, I asked myself why I knew close to nothing about the history that made this date so significant to the African American community in this country. One of the steps needed to draw us more deeply into recognizing and addressing systemic racism is to recognize what we do not know, as well as reassessing what we think we know about American history.
If you read On Juneteenth you will learn from Gordon-Reed’s personal narrative as a native Texan and African American. She weaves together her family’s story, her pride in her home state, and her own discovery of all that she did not know about the multi-layered history of the indigenous, Mexican, African descent, and white history of her place in the world.
How we tell the stories of our own families and community matters. What we leave out of the narratives is as important as the heroic threads we lift up. A question to wrestle with on The Road Toward Racial Justice is not simply “What don’t I know?” but the more provocative question, “Why don’t I know what I don’t know?”
I hope you will keep exploring on our common journey.
Yours in Christ,
Bishop Patricia Lull