The Long Walk to Freedom, A Juneteenth Reflection

by Reverend Dr. George CL Cummings

As I reflect on my retirement from formal service as an Executive Director of Faith in Action East Bay this year,  and as we prepare to celebrate Juneteenth 2024, I cannot help but be reminded of the fact that whatever I have achieved in my life has been one been due to the simple fact that I stand on the shoulders of those named and unnamed soldiers who have gone before me. I stand on their shoulders, and owe a debt of gratitude to those who charted a course toward freedom, and sacrificed their lives and their gifts on the long walk. 

The term “The Long Walk to Freedom“ was the title of the autobiography of our ancestor, Nelson Mandela, documenting his efforts and journey towards freedom from the system of apartheid in South Africa. There is much that we can learn from our sisters and brothers in South Africa. For now the title, and his journey, serves to remind us all that the journey is long and that many have given their all so that we might continue to pursue the dream of freedom. 

In 1994, I stood on a dusty street in a township as millions of Black South Africans voted for the first time and elected the African National Congress as the governing party in post-apartheid South Africa with Nelson Mandela as President. Amidst the euphoria of the moment, I asked an elder what did the moment mean to him. He responded that it was another step along the way to liberation. However, he pointed out that while the right to vote was an important accomplishment, it was a long way from the economic equity that needed to be achieved in order to achieve the dream of freedom in South Africa. This past week we were reminded of this when the ANC was forced into a coalition government with an opposition party, primarily because they had been unable to achieve the necessary economic empowerment that would create a more equitable society in South Africa. I think we have much to learn from them.

I would like to share with you all, “Sankofa” which is the practice of looking back to those who went before us to learn about that which is necessary for us to go forward. It is this practice that causes me to look to our ancestors for what we need in this time in history. This is a decisive moment in the history of the United States, and a time to be unambiguous about our hopes, dreams, and strategies.

Then words of the Black National Anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing“ written by James Weldon Johnson and his brother  provide us all with some guidance:

Stony the road we trod,

Bitter the chastening rod,

Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;

Yet with a steady beat,

Have not our weary feet, Come to the place for which our fathers (mothers) sighted?

We have come over a way that with tears have been watered,

We have come trading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,

Out of the gloomy past

Till now we stand at last,

Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

Freedom is not easily achieved and requires much of us. That kind of holistic liberation of a people requires the following :

  • A revolutionary vision of a transformed society that is characterized by political and economic equity.
  • Revolutionary courage to act in the present to achieve that which you may not see in your lifetime.
  • Revolutionary patience that sustains your commitment even when your efforts do not immediately bear fruit.

When we look back at the lives of Fedrick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, James Hal Cone, Camilo Torres, Nelson Rohilahla Mandela, Govan Mbeki, and others we see their example and must rededicate ourselves to the journey.

I do not place myself in that pantheon of ancestors, but have tried to follow their example and strive to be faithful in doing so. 

Hope is hearing of the melody of the future. Faith is the courage to dance to that melody as we walk together down the long road to freedom. Let us dance to the melody of that prophetic hope. It is what our ancestors did on June 19th when they got the news that they had been freed from the scourge of chattel slavery.

In faith, love, and power,

Reverend Dr. George CL Cummings

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