As we celebrate and reflect on Juneteenth (aka Freedom Day and Emancipation Day), I am thankful for all those who risked their relationships, their employment, their reputation, and even their lives to fight for abolition long before it was popular.
I am grateful for preachers, such as Quaker Benjamin Lay, who bucked the status quo to preach the true message of the Bible, that slavery is sin. I am inspired by their action of ex-communicating slave-traders, and slave owners, from their churches. I am saddened by their all-too-frequent disappointment with those churches and self-described Christians who refused to hear and obey the truth.
I am inspired by businessmen similar to Matthias Baldwin who sacrificed popularity and wealth to make a moral and political stand against slavery. Baldwin hired black workers in his locomotive factory and fought for the African American vote as early as 1837 even though it cost him business in the South.
My creative nature stands in awe of Harriet Beecher-Stowe – daughter of Rev. Lyman Beecher – and how she used her extensive Biblical knowledge and deep passion for the oppressed to weave the tale of Uncle Tom’s Cabin into the most provocative and mind-changing story ever produced in America. The 1852 book and subsequent stage play did more to change the hearts and minds of Americans than any other single action or event.
In the same manner, I am stirred by John Sullivan Dwight, who translated the timeless work “O Holy Night” into English in 1858. He added a verse which pricked the conscience of our nation and called us to righteousness:
Truly He taught us to love one another; His law is Love and His gospel is Peace; Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother, And in his name all oppression shall cease, Sweet hymns of joy in grateful Chorus raise we; Let all within us praise his Holy name!
I feel blessed by those involved in our national founding, such as Physician and Statesman Benjamin Rush, who–though they could not persuade the majority at the time–planted the early seeds for abolition which were to grow up into freedom and equality for all.
I am astounded by early African American leaders such as Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, and Frederick Douglass who leveraged God’s amazing transforming power of grace and forgiveness to create critical positive change not only for the black community but the entire world and all its people. My admiration of them, all they overcame, and all they achieved can not be overstated. They amaze me! I will consider my life successful, if I accomplish just a little of what they did.
Closer to today, I am grateful to have learned from Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. who taught us that love, not hate, is the only thing that will bring lasting change. As I reflect on all these heroes today, one thing in particular fits so perfectly into Pastor King’s worldview. It was not the color of their skin that mattered, it was the content of their character.
May the content of our characters fare as well in our generation.