I was playing trivia recently, and a question came up about Juneteenth. It’s telling that two of our participants asked, “Juneteenth, what is that?” At least when I was in high school, I don’t recall Juneteenth mentioned in classes. Though I will admit, there are many things I don’t remember. And note that I attended an inner-city mixed-race school which featured a bust of Jimi Hendrix and an auditorium named after Quincy Jones. It’s a place where you would think they would actively teach Black history. I don’t remember hearing about Juneteenth in my kids’ curriculum, either.
It’s not like Juneteeth (celebrated on June 19th) is a new thing. It’s the celebration of the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation to the last slaves in the United States. Texas was the most remote outpost of slavery in the confederacy. Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, but it didn’t make its way to Texas until 1865. Celebrations of Juneteenth date back to 1866, starting with church gatherings in Texas, and then spreading throughout the South.
Eventually, progressing from the Civil Rights movement of the 60s, Juneteenth became celebrated throughout the United States. Most states have formally recognized it as a holiday; Hawaii and North and South Dakota are the only states that currently do not.
The Emancipation Proclamation was a momentous event in US History. We’ve declared national holidays to honor presidents, to honor Martin Luther King, Jr., to honor veterans. Juneteeth is a holiday that celebrates freedom. While the brutal murder of George Floyd has brought the awareness to the forefront that we still have a long way to go to end racial bias and inequality in our country, ending institutional slavery in the US is an occasion that merits a national holiday. It is time.
June 19th is coming up quickly; we won’t see a declaration of Juneteenth as a national holiday this year. The President can issue an executive order to make any day a one-time Federal holiday. However, I doubt we’ll see that in 2020 with our current President in office. It takes congressional approval to declare a recurring national holiday. But perhaps, increased awareness and support will set the wheels in motion. Raised voices, not only in protests but on the news and social media, may bring about the increased awareness and support the holiday needs to, finally, get elevated to national status. You can sign petitions (and donate funds) to lend support.
Several companies, including Nike, Twitter, and Square, have recently declared Juneteenth a company holiday. More are likely to follow in giving their employees the day off with pay.
Let’s take this further, finally, and make Juneteenth a national holiday.
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