On Thursday, June 17, President Joe Biden established Juneteenth as a federal holiday. The measure received broad bi-partisan support, including the unanimous consent of the U.S. Senate and overwhelming support of the House of Representatives. 

Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19, receives its name from June 19, 1865, when the Union army arrived in Galveston, Texas to announce that all enslaved African-Americans in the state were free in accordance with President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Texas was the last state in the Confederacy to receive the news that the Civil War was over, and that slavery had been abolished. 

Since 1866, Juneteenth has been celebrated in one form or another, especially within the African-American community. The State of Texas made it an official state holiday in 1980, and until now, 47 states and the District of Columbia recognized June 19 as a holiday or as a day of observation.

Establishing Juneteenth as a Federal holiday is an important moment in our country’s history as we continue to grapple with the racism and racial tension that have been a part of our country’s history since its inception, and to press on toward the grand aspiration that all people are created equal.

The Western Theological Seminary Statement on Racial and Ethnic Diversity states, “Scripture is clear that all people are created in the image of God without distinction of race or ethnicity and that the blessings of God are for all peoples and nations.” As Christians, “We are united to Christ by the Spirit through faith, such that none may boast over another; and yet our one-ness in Christ also includes our distinct racial and ethnic identities, which was God’s intentional design and will continue to be affirmed and celebrated into the eschaton.”

In this spirit, we celebrate and affirm the establishment of Juneteenth as a Federal holiday. Beginning in the 2021-2022 academic year, Western Theological Seminary will observe June 19 as a federal holiday. May this day be a day of remembrance but also a day of aspiration as we continue to live into our identity as agents of reconciliation who are committed to the biblical practices of peacemaking and reconciliation. May we do so wholeheartedly, so that even in the here and now, we may more closely live into what God has ordained from the very beginning and what we will share in the life to come. 

 

-President Felix Theonugraha