Detroit Churches Celebrate Juneteenth

Juneteenth is connected to the Watch Service. The service started as a prayerful hope for emancipation in 1862. In 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, and the enslaved Black people in Texas found out they were free on June 19, 1865.

Juneteenth is rooted in the Black Christian tradition, as quiet as that’s kept.

The Watch Service, the New Year’s Eve service held at some Black Christian faiths, such as Baptist and Pentacostal churches, commemorated how the enslaved people prayed while they watched and waited for emancipation. This service started on December 31, 1862, or “Freedom’s Eve.” A year later, the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863—except for enslaved Black people in Texas.

White slaveowners in Texas, like quite a few in pro-slavery states, ignored the proclamation for about two years. On June 19, 1865, a contingency of Union soldiers—quite a few of whom were freed Black men — arrived in Galveston, Texas. The leader of that troop, Major General Gordon Granger, announced that, per General Orders Number 3, the 250,000 enslaved Black people in Texas were free. The order stated: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

June 19th became known in the Black community in Texas as “Emancipation Day,” “Freedom Day,” and, of course, Juneteenth.

The day was also known as “Jubilee Day,” which refers to the Old Testament festival of Jubilee, cited in Leviticus 25. Jubilee took place every 50 years and, during that celebration, the Israelites freed their fellow community members from slavery, forgave debts and restored lands. Since many Black Christians deeply related to the story of the Israelites, particularly the emancipation story of Exodus, they adapted the idea of Jubilee to express their own joy for God freeing them from slavery.

The first Juneteenth was celebrated in Austin, Texas in 1866; the holiday stayed a mostly Texan holiday for the rest of the nineteenth century. In Michigan, however, one of the first Black freedom celebrations was when Frederick Douglass visited Battle Creek to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Britain abolishing slavery in the Caribbean on August 1, 1884.

Black Michiganders celebrated manumission either August 1 or January 1, the latter being in line with the tradition of the Watch Service and commemorating the Emancipation Proclamation. This happened throughout the rest of the nineteenth century and the early 20th century. And though Black people in Michigan celebrated Juneteenth, official celebrations didn’t become a thing until the 1990s. The state made the holiday official in 2005.

In the process of The Culture adapting the holiday across the United States, Juneteenth also lost its religious connections. But, some Black churches are now incorporating the holiday into their services.

The Archdiocese of Detroit is holding a mass and reception to commemorate Juneteenth, said Vickie Figueroa, the Associate Director of Cultural Ministries and the Coordinator Black Catholic Ministry. The Mass of Peace and Justice Celebrating Freedom will be held Monday, June 19 at Gesu Parish, located at 17180 Oak Drive. Father John McKenzie will preside over the 6PM Mass. The reception will take place at 7:15PM. Figueroa said all are welcome to the service.

Father Anthony Estes, the pastor of St. Matthew’s and St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church, told the Michigan Chronicle that the church didn’t plan to have a service for the holiday. He said that, as far as he knew, the other Black Episcopal churches weren’t planning any service. He did plan to compose a prayer to commemorate the holiday that will be posted online.

Metropolitan Community Church Detroit is celebrating Juneteenth during their worship service on Sunday, June 18, Rev. Dr. Roland Stringfellow, the church’s Senior Pastor, told the Chronicle. The church community also recorded a YouTube video that explains the holiday’s history, how it’s celebrated—including the food—and how the holiday is “connected to the equality of all individuals, particularly LBGTQIA+ African Americans.”

“Juneteenth is a great day of liberation and celebration for all of us Black LGBTQIA+ people. So, we believe that it is important in our local and broader community.”

The Chronicle reached out to Open Door Church of God in Christ. A church representative said that the church hasn’t planned anything yet. The Chronicle also reached out to the Shrine of the Black Madonna; as of this writing, no one from that worship community responded regarding their Juneteenth plans.

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