On Sunday, I shared with the congregation about my time in Jamestown, Virginia, where the first slaves from Africa arrived in 1619 on soil that was to become the Unites States. I also shared some of my written reflections regarding my visit to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture the day before. I visited both of these places just a few weeks ago while I was on my study leave. The massive Smithsonian building is in the shape of a slave ship with four stories above ground, which focus on heritage, community and culture, and three levels below ground focussing on history. I was with my friend David, who lives in the D.C. area, and we were told that it is best to start at the very bottom level and work our way up.
Suffice it to say that by the time we got to the ground level, I was emotionally spent. There is so much sad history in our nation as well as so much perseverance, drive and hope! However, a person can only take in so much emotional trauma and hope at once, and so David and I decided that we would each have to return to the museum at a later date in order to see the four stories above ground!
One of the things I learned at the museum was that Juneteenth has been celebrated by African Americans since June 19, 1865, when news of the end of the Civil War came to Galveston, Texas, the final location in the American South where slaves were freed after four long wars of bloody battles for their freedom. Last year, President Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law, thus making June 19 a federal holiday. It is a day for Americans to reflect on the importance of freedom for all people and to recognize that freedom has come to us at great cost of blood, sweat and tears. Our nation has made great strides toward equality and freedom since the end of the Civil War, but I have no doubt that we still have a lot of work to do in order for freedom and equality to fully work their way through all segments of our society.
The Apostle Paul wrote in his Letter to the Galatians, “There is no longer slave or free…for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” To Paul, the Gospel meant freedom, and he knew that there were many forms of slavery in human life and community. May we all live free and do whatever we can to ensure that everyone lives free in our nation and in the world.
Aloha nui loa!
Kahu Alan Akana