Juneteenth, gratitude to James Cone

Juneteenth or Juneteenth Independence Day or Freedom Day, remembers the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas in June 1865, and more generally the emancipation of African-American slaves throughout the Confederate South and more generally still emancipation of African Americans through the United States and more generally still the celebration of all victories against old and new Jim Crow, against crimes and cruelties, against unjust policing, against the small and large assumptions that Black Lives do not matter. I am white. I live in one of the five states that do not officially recognize Juneteenth.

James Cone was my mentor and my saint. I went to Union Theological Seminary in 1976 and over the four years I was there (a baby happened!) I took seven classes from him. He taught me as a white person to live a life of confession and of silence. All the faith related books I have written (not the fiction – oh, he would shudder) have come ultimately from things I learned from Jim Cone.

In Queer matters I am an ally. In racial matters, I cannot begin to be. I carry on my back a history of violence. My Daddy used to say to me, “It doesn’t matter what you personally do or don’t do, as a white girl, the path has been cleared before you by the blood of others.” Even twisting around about that and trying to wake up to the depths of my prejudice is trying to make it about me.

James Cone taught me to turn up and shut up. If it is a class, if it is a protest, if it is a boycott, if it is an action, I need to be Present. Silent. Both.

I was too silent. I was at Union in October and I thought I should seek out Jim Cone. But I didn’t. Elsewhere in this blog you can find “Juneteenth” materials I have written.

James Hal Cone died on April 28, 2018. This Juneteenth is dedicated to him.

I remember your high light voice
in the classroom
and you said “lynch”
and we could not help but see —
the tree.

You sang spirituals
and the echoes of —
Way down yonder by myself
and I couldn’t hear nobody pray —
sobbed down that very room.

You said “dispossessed”
and the children
of Japanese internment camps
students slowly learning
their stolen Nahuatl ,
and so many others from around the world
and around the city
had safe space to tell their stories.

You said, “devil,”
and I looked in the mirror.

You said, “church”
and I knew what church meant –
not so much a history of it,
James Washington gave us that –

but the food of it,
the song and preaching,
deep resistance
and the real living of it
that could turn the world
upside down.

Kept me there, in the church,
through years
when I was proud of it,
and many years of –

got up this morning,
blues was walking round my bed,
went to eat communion
and the blues was in my bread.

You sang the blues,
oh, yes, you could sing the blues —
and we heard power and liberation.

What we did not want to hear
was the teacher was dead,
walking round in glory,
so we need
to lift the words instead.

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9 Responses to Juneteenth, gratitude to James Cone

  1. Stephen Price says:

    O Lord yes.
    Thank you.
    I needed this so bad this morning
    When Juneteenth
    Still hasn’t found it’s way
    To my baby brothers and sisters
    On the border.

  2. Betsy Bates says:

    I’m sorry, Maren.  Betsy Bates

  3. wow, powerful loved it…

  4. this makes opens so many , many floods… Thank you for this

  5. Nathaniel C. Emens says:

    Wow, I never knew about Juneteenth. I am now 90 years old and back when I was a senior in High school I wrote a long paper for my History Class that was titled, “The Lynching Problem In The United States”. That woke me up then. Why do we still have that problem? Nathaniel C. Emens

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