On the 150th Anniversary of Juneteenth: In the Shadow of Mother Emmanuel AME

photo by Chuck Coker Emancipation Proclamation
photo by Chuck Coker
Emancipation Proclamation

Today marks the 150th anniversary of Junteenth – 150 years ago, and two and a half years after it should have – word of the Emancipation Proclamation made it to the enslaved African and African Americans of Texas.  Reaction included initial disbelief, shock, and outright jubilation. There was what has become known as The Scatter: even in the face of an uncertain future or home, setting out, setting north, in the uncertain hope that life would truly offer the fruits of liberation. It was a new version of an old human activity: exodus, the likes of which other peoples of other times throughout human history have known too well.

Yet, the bitter residue of white supremacy, the entrenched legacy of slavery, was to unfold haltingly, resisting at every opportunity, remaking itself in every new generation.   Equality and safety from violence were to remain an elusive dream.

Think of it: even then, freedom did not come on time or all at once. Oh! how the events of this week remind us too tragically. The heinous murders at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina leave us wondering what quality of freedom came at all, given the lasting bequest of lethal racism set before us.

While history leaves scars of betrayal and demoralization, life offers us more: there are past triumphs of the human spirit and resistance to evil; of secret, sacred moments of solidarity; of peoples crossing divides and choosing peace. A communal, life-affirming spirit continues to ask, to aspire, and to proclaim: what liberations are there yet to be? How might we contribute our part to bend the arc of the moral universe towards justice?

In the shadow of Mother Emanuel’s loss,

let us fill our public squares with wailing,

let all in the streets shout, “Alas! Alas!”

Let us join our skills in lamentation,

mingling our tears, our grief, our outrage

with those who have lost so much.

May we choose to live into this truth that heals the world,

that evokes the spirit of Tikkun olam:

their loss is our loss;

we all are part of an interdependent web of existence;

our collective liberation bound up together.

My nephew and his partner are celebrating their union (I have been calling it a “not-a-wedding”) this weekend.  They asked me to share some words on Juneteenth and the #Charlestonshooting for the Shabbat service tonight.  Mazel tov to them!

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