Phillips Seminary Stands with African Americans’ Celebration of Juneteenth

With the discussion of President Donald Trump’s initial intention to hold a campaign rally in Tulsa this coming weekend, we at Phillips Theological Seminary continue to stand with the African American communities of Oklahoma as we consider the significance of the celebration of June 19th. This date, also known as Juneteenth, commemorates for African Americans the end of the War Between the States.

Whereas Gen. Robert E. Lee signed documents of surrender on April 9, 1865 at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia, the Confederacy did not yield to total surrender until June 19, 1865 when Union troops landed in Galveston, Texas and declared an end to the war. As the date of total emancipation, Juneteenth became a day of Jubilee, a day for celebrating African American freedom from slavery. 

Although Crispus Attucks, son of an African father and a Wampanoag Native American mother, was the “first to defy and first to die” in the Boston Massacre of 1770, his sacrifice did not prevent Africans from being enslaved in America. Making the case, Frederick Douglass examined the meaning of the Fourth of July for African Americans in an address to the Rochester Ladies’ Antislavery Society, Rochester, New York, July 5, 1852.

Recounting the many indignities America had inflicted upon African Americans, Douglass declared, “Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessing in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”

American slavery was a stumbling block for African Americans to celebrate American Independence Day.

Juneteenth holds very special meaning within the state of Oklahoma because of its history of All-Black towns. From 1865 to approximately 1921, Oklahoma was a land of promise for emancipated African Americans, where 50 All-Black towns were established after the American Civil War (1861-1865). Up from slavery’s dehumanizing degradation, African Americans re-created lives that were defined by dignity, integrity, and self-determination.

Consequently, the African Americans who established towns in Oklahoma chose to celebrate the 19th of June rather than the Fourth of July and to commemorate their emancipation from the American house of bondage. The independent newspapers of those towns wrote stories that declared their walk to freedom and often printed, as a Christian witness to God, the public programs that were worshipful and thankful. The events also sometimes included representatives from the Indian nations of Oklahoma.

Phillips Theological Seminary is committed to the cause of freedom and offers leadership education that advocates biblically and theologically responsible witness to the world that is compassionate and justice-oriented. We stand with our African American sisters and brothers in celebration of Juneteenth. We are committed to efforts that declare the Kin-dom. May freedom ring and reign in Tulsa and across the United States of America.

Nancy Claire Pittman, President and Stephen J. England Associate Professor of the Practice of Ministry