by Stuart Hamilton
Monday, June 20th marks the second annual national celebration of Juneteenth, the federal holiday which recognizes the freeing of the last slaves in America. When it comes to the abolition of slavery, most people remember the date January 1st, 1863, when Abraham Lincoln signed the emancipation proclamation. Two long years later, a few months after the end of the civil war, union soldiers finally made it to the furthest reaches of Texas to declare that freedom to the last of the American slaves on June 19th, 1865. Since that time “Juneteenth” has been celebrated by black communities nationwide. Texas became the first state to declare Juneteenth a holiday in 1980, with more states to follow, until last year it was officially declared by congress a national holiday.
Juneteenth gives Catholics a special opportunity to reflect honestly on the connection between the image of God, the inherent dignity of the human person and the sin of racism, such as Word on Fire’s new YouTube series Racism, Human Dignity, and the Catholic Church in America compellingly does. It also gives us an opportunity to highlight African American heroes of the Catholic faith. Heroes such as the outspoken Catholic apologist Daniel Rudd (born in Bardstown, KY) who founded the first US newspaper printed by and for African Americans, or Captain André Cailloux who formed one of the first Black combat regiments in the Union Army and whose sacrifice on the battlefield galvanized African American participation in the Union war effort.
Without the recognition of God, the creator of all human life, conversation about race in America will always be incomplete and become distorted. That is why it’s not just a good thing, but an absolute necessity that Catholics constantly engage this conversation with a Christ-centered hope. Juneteenth is a great opportunity to celebrate not only the dignity of every human life, but also the unique contributions that the children of God, in their abundant diversity, bring to His kingdom.