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Thoughts for the Day After Juneteenth

Updated: Jun 27

Today is the day after Juneteenth, a Federal holiday so new that as a society we are still trying to figure out how best to celebrate. Of course, it is the Federal Government’s recognition of the holiday that is the new part, Juneteenth is actually the oldest nationally-celebrated commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States. The holiday recognizes the moment on 19 June 1865 when the enslaved people of Galveston, TX learned from the Union Army that they were free. The news came two-and-a-half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. An informal quiz of my workmates revealed that some folks attended festivals and commemorations while others relaxed at home. Speaking for myself, I spent the day catching up on some work for the Vestry and putting the finishing touches on a report written by the Racial Justice Ministry (RJM) that examines The Falls Church’s (TFC) ties to slavery. Over the course of the next year, I’d like to hear your ideas about how you think TFC should mark the day. The Episcopal Church provides some guidance to congregations, noting specifically that the nature of the day is celebratory.


While the nature of the day is celebratory, the day after, not so much. The day after Juneteenth, after the celebration, we are still left with the fact that Whites created the institution of slavery in the United States to subjugate Africans and their descendants, kept people in bondage two-and-a-half years after the enslaved were legally freed, and subsequently denied the rights of African Americans through the passage of discriminatory legislation, as typified by the Jim Crow series of laws. The legacy of America’s racist past lives with us today and is manifested in the persistent economic inequalities among the races as well as continued marginalization of minority communities. The day after is tough.


The day after can also sometimes bring change. The day(s) after George Floyd, an African American man, was murdered by a White police officer in Minneapolis, MN on 25 May 2020, the country responded with widespread protests against police brutality. Parishioners at TFC also formed the RJM, a collection of like-minded Christians committed to the pursuit of justice and equality for all races, inclusive of intersectional populations, by identifying and eradicating racial barriers in the Church, community, and country.

 

At an Adult Forum this fall, the RJM will release its report on TFC’s ties to the institution of slavery, which, as a preview, are extensive. On that day, we will examine our past and consider the legacy of the Church. The real work, however, will begin the day after. The day after the RJM delivers its report, I encourage TFC congregation to consider the enslaved persons held by the Vestry members and Rectors of TFC, the enslaved persons who built the Historic Church we continue to use, the descendants of the persons enslaved by this institution (our linked descendent community) and what we owe them.  


By Jan Cornelius Jr.

Racial Justice Ministry


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