Lord, we pray specifically for fathers and fatherhood across our land. Your Word clearly instructs fathers to bring up their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. God, we thank You for the men who are leading according to Your statutes and the ones that are laying their lives down for Your purposes. We pray that You will continue to use these men to lead their families and other men. We pray You will strengthen the fathers of our nation and that You will continue to empower churches, organizations, and individuals to invest in fathers and fatherhood for the sake of our children. Amen. (Crosswalk)
This year Father’s Day shares the same space with Juneteenth celebrations. I find this to be quite significant for fathers in urban communities. Black and Brown fathers must overcome severe challenges to fulfill their roles as caregivers and nurturers of their sons and daughters. I want to take this opportunity to share with you some information about a little-known and horrible policy enacted by the state of New Jersey.
Our new federal holiday, Juneteenth Day, commemorates the day in 1865 that enslaved people in Galveston, Texas finally learned that the centuries-long enslavement era in America was over. Many of us who celebrate this day are not aware that New Jersey was the last northern state to end slavery and in fact it was not until January 23, 1866 that Gov. Marcus L. Ward issued a proclamation ending slavery in New Jersey – more than seven months after the news of freedom arrived in Galveston.
Furthermore, according to The New Jersey Historical Commission, “[In 1804] New Jersey passed its Gradual Abolition of Slavery law – an act that delayed the end of slavery in the state for decades. It allowed for the children of enslaved Black people born after July 4, 1804, to be free, only after they attained the age of 21 years for women and 25 for men. Their family and everyone else near and dear to them, however, remained enslaved until they died or attained freedom by running away or waiting to be freed.”
Many Black parents who attained their own freedom nevertheless chose to remain enslaved so that they could maintain close ties with their enslaved children. But it was not uncommon for white enslavers in New Jersey to sell those children to southern planters, effectively destroying family units that had made sacrifices to stay together. In other words, one of the most horrendous state-sanctioned sins of New Jersey was the destruction of the Black family unit.
We learn in The Black Freedom Struggle in Northern New Jersey, 1613-1860: A Review of the Literature, that,
“One factor was the nature of the abolition law, which designated some of the most the productive years of a young servant’s life to be for the benefit of the mother’s owner. In this way, both slaves for a term and even their manumitted parents were unable to gain from the work of the young people. This does not include the pain of leaving children behind. As such, the preservation of multiracial households headed by current and former slaveholders was sustained. In one case, Ann and Rufus Thompson were freed in 1828, but since their children would remain slaves for a term until 1848, they remained in the employ of their masters for an additional twenty years, a situation that certainly limited their freedom and capacity to build autonomous lives.”
So today, I say to the Black and Brown men who are seeking to reverse history, ignorance, and state-sponsored violence to hold our families together, please remember that the God of Jacob never abandoned Joseph even when he was sold into slavery. God stood with Joseph and hundreds of manumitted slaves in New Jersey as they struggled for their freedom. God sustained those who assumed the position of slave in order to sustain their family units. Black fathers surrendered their freedom as the price for being able to hold their families together.
Let us honor the memory of those fathers who, like Jesus – who gave up his divine privileges and took the form of a slave when he was born as a human being – were willing to empty themselves of all vestiges of freedom for the love of their children.
Happy Father’s Day and a joyful Juneteenth.
We look forward to future January 23 Black Epiphany celebrations in New Jersey.