“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me, to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free…..”
“To sing about freedom and to pray for its coming is not enough. Freedom must be actualized in history by oppressed peoples who accept the intellectual challenge to analyze the world for the purpose of changing it.”
James H. Cone
Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery,
None but ourselves can free our minds
Have no fear for atomic energy,
‘Cause none of them can stop the time
How long shall they kill our prophets,
While we stand aside and look?
Uh, some say it’s just a part of it,
We’ve got to fulfill the book
Won’t you help to sing,
These songs of freedom?
‘Cause all I ever have Redemption songs
Redemption songs, Redemption songs
“Redemption” by Bob Marley
June 19, 2020, which is the day after my birth date, hit differently this year, moreso than any other year since 1865. On that day the world saw on video the deliberate lynching of a black man named George Floyd while being arrested by a white officer. This all came on the heels of several other murders and brutalities of black people at the hands of the police, such as Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, Botham Jean, Alton Sterling, Eric Garner and for me personally, Jemel Roberson. Once again, Black-America was faced with the reality that we are still “Free-ish Since 1865.”
In the year of 1865, on June 19th now commemorated as “Juneteenth”, the word of the emancipation of enslaved African-Americans in the Confederacy reached those who were in Texas. Although African-Americans were declared free on January 1, 1863 after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, there were no social media or cell phones to help rapidly spread the news around the world for all to know and celebrate freedom.
Therefore, slaves in the south remained enslaved and prisoners in their own minds, although they were free. Yes, they were free indeed and did not even know it, which caused them to continue to be oppressed. This is until someone came along with the good news of emancipation. For prisoners to be set free they must not only be legally declared free but someone has to verbally relay the message of freedom. James H. Cone the father of Black Liberation Theology says that “Freedom must be actualized”, meaning it must be made a reality. Especially for those who are free and do not realize how free they are because they still live in a world with an oppressed system that is designed to keep as many people imprisoned mentally and socially, as possible.
For prisoners and those that are enslaved to be set free, there must always be a prophet in the mist that is sent to speak truth to power to set the captives free. This is what Luke writes about concerning the purpose of Jesus Christ’s birth and this ministry to the world. Jesus comes along in the temple and read from the scroll concerning himself to declare to all that he was sent by God “to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and ….. to set the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18)
It was this proclamation that made Jesus a target for death by the religious elite because he was shaking things up and undoing the oppressive system for both the physically and spiritually enslaved. Jesus, who came to set the captives free, was crucified on a cross as an example for all to see. Bob Marley said it best when he sang “How long shall they kill our prophets, While we stand aside and look? Uh, some say it’s just a part of it, We’ve got to fulfill the book.” And here we are in 2020, where prophets and people are still being killed for preaching and protesting to set people free from oppression, systemic racism, social injustice, and even more, so that all no longer only live a free-ish life but a free indeed life in Jesus Christ.
LeAundre D. Hill, MDiv, is a graduate of Northern Seminary and pastors Purposed Church on the West Side of Chicago.