Happy Juneteenth!

In this time of racial unrest, where genuine, peaceful efforts at positive reform get intermingled with violence and ideologically-driven “critical theory” gone mad, it is difficult to parse through what Christians can actively support, versus those things we should reject. However, today marks an emerging holiday celebration that we can all get behind: Juneteenth.

On June 19, 1865, Unions troops led by Major General Gordon Granger, entered Galveston, Texas, to officially deliver and enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. The Emancipation Proclamation had been first declared in January, 1863, but the Civil War delayed efforts to effectively announce that enslaved persons throughout the “slave states” had been freed. Now that General Robert E. Lee had surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox a few months earlier, the way was now clear to more peacefully correct the injustice endured by countless African Americans.

It is important to remember, though, that Juneteenth was but one step towards racial reconciliation. When the Emancipation Proclamation was first made, in 1863, it ironically did not apply to Union-held territories in the South, at that time during the war. For example, in my hometown, Williamsburg, Virginia, the Emancipation Proclamation had officially freed slaves living in James City County, in Confederate territory, but it did not free slaves living in York County, which was then in Union territory. Therefore, slaves living south of Duke of Gloucestor Street, in James City County, were free, but slaves living north of Duke of Gloucestor Street, in York County, were technically not! It was not until the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, later in December of 1865, that slavery was officially ended everywhere in the United States, without exception.

In a way, the incompleteness of what Juneteenth accomplished underscores the fact that official proclamation might be one thing, but the reality on the ground can be something else altogether. Considering that America is still undergoing race related trials over 150 years after the end of the Civil War confirms this fact. The ramifications of racial-based slavery, that many Christians were complicit in, supported by the acceptance of some really bad misinterpretation of the Bible, has had far reaching effects beyond questions about race, that plague us today. We as Christians would do well in continuing to remember Juneteenth.

On my bike ride today, I rode near the Charles City County, Virginia courthouse. Charles City County is one of the oldest communities, founded by the English in the early 17th century. It is also home to several stately plantations, that dot along the James River, a few of which are open to visitation today. These plantations were supported by hundreds of African American slaves, whose descendants make up the majority population in the county. Below is a photograph I took of the Confederate war memorial, with the newer courthouse building in the background. Below that is another photograph, taken only a few hundred feet from the courthouse, where Isaac Brandon, an African American with a wife and eight children, was awaiting trial, after being charged with assaulting a white woman. Brandon was taken from the jail and lynched by a white mob, in 1892, on a tree, on this hillside. No one from the mob was ever charged or arrested for their activities.


About Clarke Morledge

Clarke Morledge -- Computer Network Engineer, College of William and Mary... I hiked the Mount of the Holy Cross, one of the famous Colorado Fourteeners, with some friends in July, 2012. My buddy, Mike Scott, snapped this photo of me on the summit. View all posts by Clarke Morledge

3 responses to “Happy Juneteenth!

  • Clarke Morledge

    Pastor Ed Haywood delivered a sermon at my church yesterday, on racial reconciliation. There is an historical footnote I would like to make, as Pastor Haywood mentioned that both D.L. Moody and Billy Graham fell short in efforts to combat racism, in their respective generations. According to Pastor Haywood, Moody failed to speak out about lynchings, and Graham refused to whole-heartedly support civil rights reforms initiated by Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Regarding Moody, he actually did speak out against lynchings. D.L. Moody rejected violence, in that violence never would find support among the respectable evangelicals of his day. However, Moody’s voice on racism was muted due to other concerns. Moody originally spoke out against segregation, but as his influence as an evangelist grew beyond the Chicago area, he would allow for segregated meetings at his revival meetings, particularly in the South. In what would become the Moody Bible Institute, in Chicago, black and white students were segregated in their dorms, but Moody was ahead its time in actually allowing and encouraging black students to attend the Institute.

    According to Timothy Gloege, in _Guaranteed Pure_, his excellent history of the Moody Bible Institute, D. L. Moody decided to focus on relations between Northern and Southern whites. There was still bitterness between Northern and Southern whites, following the Civil War, and so Moody thought it best to try to focus on healing that rift. The downside to this was that his focus on inter-white relations came at the expense of supporting African Americans against the terrors of white-empowered racism, in both the North and the South.

    SOURCE: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/anxiousbench/2018/02/race-respectability-moody-bible-institute/

    Regarding Graham, Billy Graham lost support from his fellow evangelical fundamentalists at Bob Jones College, and other southern white institutions when he encouraged cooperation with theological liberals, in order to further advance his crusade meetings, in order to penetrate those churches with the Gospel. This tension was amplified when Graham refused to allow for physical roped barriers between whites and blacks in his revival meetings. Graham also developed a friendship with Martin Luther King Jr., in the late 50’s and early 60’s.

    King was eventually arrested, due to his expanding protests, and landed himself in a Birmingham, Alabama jail, in April, 1963, where he wrote his famous _Letter from a Birmingham Jail_. When asked what Graham thought of this, Graham was hesitant in supporting King’s (and other) efforts to further civil rights: “They should put on the brakes a little bit.”

    According to Jemar Tisby, author of _The Color of Compromise_, Graham felt that the threat of communism, following just a few months after the Cuban missile crisis, was a greater threat to America than were the racial tensions at home in the United States. It is easy for us to forget just how close the Americans and Soviets were towards triggering a nuclear, Third World War.

    Just a few months later, June 1963, King delivered a rough draft of his “I Have a Dream” speech, to an audience in Detroit, Michigan. “I Have a Dream” would later become King’s most memorable speech, later in 1963, when he preached it in Washington, D.C.

    But in Detroit, King included this line:

    ‘“Well,” they’re saying, “you need to put on the brakes.” The only answer that we can give to that is that the motor’s now cranked up and we’re moving up the highway of freedom toward the city of equality, and we can’t afford to stop now because our nation has a date with destiny. We must keep moving.’

    Was King’s reference to putting on the brakes a subtle jab at his friend Billy Graham, for not being supportive enough?

    It is notable that King removed the “put on the brakes” reference in his memorable Washington, D.C. speech.

    SOURCE:
    https://jemartisby.com/2020/01/09/did-mlk-throw-shade-at-billy-graham-for-his-put-on-the-brakes-comment/

    It is important to note that both Moody and Graham believed that there were more pressing issues at the time, to address, than was the trouble with racism. It is very easy for us today to look back anachronistically and judge Moody and Graham too harshly for missing the mark on racism, and neglect the larger historical context, in which they were living in. At the same time, the failures of Moody and Graham to fully address racism, as noted by critics, should serve as motivations for us, to no longer delay in addressing the persistent issues of racism, that still impact America, and her churches, today.

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  • Clarke Morledge

    Williamsburg City Council votes in favor of removing the Confederate memorial, in Bicentennial Park, in Williamsburg, Virginia:

    https://wydaily.com/local-news/2020/07/14/williamsburg-city-council-votes-to-remove-confederate-memorial/

    The W&M archaeologist student who spoke at the City Council meeting is a friend of mine.

    This would be the third time this monument gets moved. It was originally installed on the Palace Green, in front of the Governors Palace, just a few feet from Duke of Gloucester Street. Colonial Williamsburg favored the monument’s removal, as it seemed out of place for the 18th century presentation along Duke of Gloucester Street.

    The monument then was placed near the Williamsburg Courthouse. But when the Courthouse moved out towards Monticello Avenue, in the late 1990s, the City did not take the monument with them, but provided a space for the monument, in a new Bicentennial Park, near the site where the old courthouse was, after the courthouse was demolished.

    I hope that the memorial will be retained somehow, as it is part of the area’s history, but surely understand the concerns behind those who find the presence of the memorial, at the present location, to be upsetting.

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  • Clarke Morledge

    John Lewis, one of the marchers at Selma, who was injured by police, and yet became of the prominent leaders in the Civil Right movement, had died:

    https://thewayofimprovement.com/2020/07/18/john-lewis-rip/

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