Although bad news travels fast, good news often takes the scenic route. That appears to have been especially true during the Civil War. Although Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation became official on the first day of January 1863, word didn’t arrive in Texas until June 19, 1865.
On that day Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed in Galveston with news that the war had ended and that those who were once enslaved were now free. One of Granger’s first acts upon landing in the Lone Star state was to read Texas General Order #3, which stated: “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
Although we can’t begin to fathom the jubilation these new citizens must have felt, we Texans attempt to honor the event in an annual tradition known as Juneteenth. From its origin in 1865, the observance of June 19th as the African American Emancipation Day has spread across the United States and beyond.
Like Thanksgiving, Juneteenth is a day when families gather to pray, count their blessings, and gorge themselves on great quantities of food. Barbecue mostly. Lots and lots of barbecue. And strawberry soda.
But for me as a Christian, the day has come to represent more than just spending time with my friends in the black community, sharing food and laughs. It has become a reminder of another kind of emancipation; the day I first heard that other “good news.”
For I too was once enslaved—shackled by chains of sin and death. Long before I was even born, though, the Greatest Emancipator paid the price to set me free. This “good news” was transported across time, carried across continents so that I would know: I had been set free.
Some of us are fortunate and hear this news early in life. For others, word of our freedom comes later. Still others refuse to believe it is true or are satisfied to be slaves to their own fallen nature. But for those of us who accept it, life becomes something more. True freedom becomes a most precious gift. And every day becomes Juneteenth.