WASHINGTON: Today is the day that is traditionally set aside for celebrations of freedom known as “Juneteenth,” also known in the black community as “Emancipation Day” or “Freedom Day.” This year, following the killing of George Floyd, the protests, and the hopefully heightened awareness of racism, no matter how rare, still in America, it is a holiday that deserves a more substantial place in America’s history.
It is time for Juneteenth to be a Federal Holiday
America is no longer inherently racist, but within its history the instances – from slavery to Jim Crow to the Civil Rights battles being waged even today – there have been moments that should make all Americans stop and give pause to the meaning. While July 4th is considered “America’s Birthday” and when we celebrate our coming out from under the thumb of the King’s rule, in 1776 not everyone was free.
And this is why Juneteenth needs to be given more prominent recognition. Not that we abolish the 4th of July, for that day is important to America’s history. But that it is time we recognize the importance of June 19th.
Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) has introduced a bill to recognize Juneteenth as a national Federal Holiday.
What is Juneteenth
Juneteenth is the melding of two words – June and nineteenth. The day is also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, or Liberation Day.
On June 19, 1865, in the city of Galveston, Texas, Union army general Gordon Granger read the federal orders proclaiming all slaves in Texas “are, and henceforward shall be free.” President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, saying “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious Southern states were released from slavery. However Texas was slow to adopt the proclamation for two reasons – it was far from Washington, DC and there were few union troops to enforce freedom for the slaves. Although Juneteenth marks the emancipation of all slaves, the institution of slavery was still legal, still existing in the Union border states after June 19, 1865.
As of 2008, 50 states and the District of Columbia all recognize Juneteenth as an official state holiday or celebration. New York has just made Juneteenth a state holiday including government and school closings.
Hawaii is the only state where Juneteenth is not recognized in some manner.
The War of Secession
The Civil War may have been initially about fighting to hold on to the Union because of the group of rebellious states, primarily controlled by the big money, slave-owning Southern Democrat aristocrats. The Southern slaveholders attempting to destroy the Constitution of the United States by taking away Federal property that essentially belonged to all of the people of the United States. Jefferson Davis (D), the President of the Confederate States of America claimed that all men were not equal. Vice President Alexander Stephens, proclaimed that there was “scientific proof” that the black man was not equal to the white man.
This in order to retain ownership of what they felt was property (slaves) that was no longer acceptable in our society.
“Those in the Deep South, who defended their actions to create a new constitution and the Confederate States, knew why they had initiated war. At the time of the organization of the Confederate States, the newly elected officials proclaimed their values and expressed their ideals opposite to what the United States of America represented in the foundational documents: The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.” – Dennis Jamison –Juneteenth celebrating freedom for all Americans
Celebrations of Juneteenth continue to honor the day in June of 1865 that Texas slaves were aware of their freedom thus bringing hope for blacks who had been treated as less than human for their entire lives.
The Government’s Role in Racial Equality
President Abraham Lincoln, as well as all Federal government officials, swear to “…preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Lincoln not only faced a Constitutional crisis but also the destruction of the fundamental values of, and the very existence of, The United States of America.
Lincoln led American into a war between the North and South to bring about the end of two centuries of slavery in America (160 years of that period under British Imperial law). The war was against the “entrenched white power structure within the aristocracy of the Democrat Party, which was determined to retain control over their regional institutions that legalized ownership of human beings. ”
President Lincoln understood that America had been founded as a nation dedicated to freedom, but the existence and toleration of slavery meant that the ideals of the Founders had yet to be fulfilled. The Founders had only managed to create the foundation for the Land of the Free; they had managed to plant the seeds for freedom to grow and mature. So it is that each generation of Americans are challenged to tend to the further development of the Land of the Free. It is the continual challenge of a nation conceived in Liberty to continue to develop and further such ideals or lose recognition of their value.
The 13th Amendment ending Slavery in the U.S.
America’s very founding was as a nation dedicated to religious and personal freedom, which was antithetical to the idea that one man could own another. And while President Lincoln “set the seeds of freedom to grow and mature” slavery in the United States did not officially end until the ratification of the 13th amendment to the Constitution of the United States on December 6, 1865.
The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime. The Senate passed the Amendment on April 8, 1864, and by the House on January 31, 1865.
The amendment was ratified by the required number of states on December 6, 1865.
Today racial unrest remains in the U.S. and conversations about erasing physical memories of those who led the Southern states during the war. (Political Talk: Removal of Confederate monuments and statues)
Following the shooting in South Carolina in 2015, Governor Niki Haley (R) recognized that the Confederate Flag had to be removed from display on government buildings. Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown, (PA-D) had taken the flag removed from state buildings saying “I just did what I thought was right and I took the flag down.”
Not flying a Confederate symbol that many Americans associate with the practice of slavery is justified. Attempting to erase the names, statues, and images of those Generals of the south just allows us to ignore the reality of this albeit painful period of American history.
The response to racial unrest is not to destroy a symbol but by creating a Federal Juneteenth holiday. Even more importantly, returning meaningful education about the destructive role of slavery to our schools.
Teaching the history of the country, the fathers who founded this country, the purpose of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and the slave owners who imperiled the lives and liberty of 2.9 million slaves to all children. Only then can we truly move racial inequality and injustice to the side.