3 Ways to Learn and Pray This Juneteenth
Resources to guide your reflection on the lasting significance of Emancipation Day
Two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, the news of this freedom finally arrived for enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas. On June 19th, 1865, a crowd gathered to hear General Order No. 3 read aloud:
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves.”
This pivotal moment in United States history—the realization of emancipation—was commemorated as Juneteenth, a holiday celebrated by countless African Americans for the past 155 years. As our nation has grappled with the reality of ongoing racial tension this past year, Juneteenth has increasingly been observed by Americans of all races—many for the first time.
As you take time to reflect on the lasting significance of Juneteenth, please join us in celebrating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. We also invite you to pray for healing and reconciliation in our divided nation, praying that the biblical truth of “absolute” racial equality championed on June 19th, 1865, might be realized in our day. Ask God to provide courage and wisdom as we pursue his vision of justice and liberty found in his Word.
Here are three resources to help you learn and pray this Juneteenth holiday.
The Fight for Freedom
Before Juneteenth, countless Americans devoted their time, energy, and lives to ending slavery. Black and white abolitionists worked together to legislate emancipation. Everyday Americans from all backgrounds worked to help enslaved people escape to freedom. And former slaves became leaders in the movement to ensure that America’s promise of liberty and justice for all applied to every person.
One hero who helped Juneteenth become a reality was Sojourner Truth. Born into slavery, Truth learned about God from her mother, who encouraged her to always seek God’s help in times of trouble. While she was unable to read or write in her early years, Truth memorized passages from the Bible and found comfort in God’s presence. After her escape from slavery, Truth became a powerful preacher and worked with abolitionist leaders like Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, and Harriet Beecher Stowe as she advocated for racial equality and women’s rights. After the Civil War, Truth joined the Freedmen’s Bureau and helped former slaves begin building their futures.
The Struggle for Faith
After emancipation, African Americans experienced challenges like poverty and high rates of illiteracy. In the face of ongoing discrimination, Bible verses, hymns, and spiritual songs communicating truths from God’s Word continued to be a source of comfort and hope. The Bible also became a key text for churches and schools offering educational classes for African Americans.
In 1876, American Bible Society received a letter from Henry C. Gray. Gray had been enslaved in Texas and had never learned to read or write. He was liberated in 1865, along with the 250,000 other African Americans in Texas who learned about their emancipation around the time of Juneteenth. Once he received an education, he devoted himself to the task of educating other African Americans by using God’s Word. While the students at his Sabbath School were eager to learn, Gray struggled to get the Bibles and educational resources he needed from Bible distributors in his area. Through his perseverance, Gray was able to obtain the materials for his class and supplied his students with both the gift of education and the treasure of God’s Word.
Striving for Justice and Praying for Healing Today
Thanks to heroes like Sojourner Truth and Henry C. Gray, we have plenty to celebrate on Juneteenth. But deep division and pain still linger today. We know that God’s Word holds the only true answer and path to healing. Like Martin Luther King, Jr., we are still waiting for “justice to roll down as waters and righteousness as a mighty stream” here on earth (Amos 5:24). We encourage you to turn to the Scriptures for strength and guidance as we continue to work for biblical justice and pray for the healing of our nation.
“National Archives Safeguards Original ‘Juneteenth’ General Order.” National Archives.
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