Juneteenth: A Holiday that Matters
We are writing this piece on June 19, 2020, and wanted to wish everyone Happy Juneteenth! For many of our readers, this might be the first year you’ve heard about the holiday called Juneteenth, but it’s been celebrated around parts of the United States since 1886, with more and more people celebrating it each year.
Until this week, only Texas had made it a paid holiday, but now more states are joining in. Forty-seven states and the District of Columbia all recognize the date, and a few are moving to join Texas in making it a paid holiday for state workers. Twitter, NFL, and other major organizations are also joining in the celebration this year. According to media outlets, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) plans to introduce legislation to make Juneteenth a Federal holiday and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) announced Thursday that he too will introduce a bipartisan bill in the Senate to the same effect. And, we here at the World Business Academy think this is tremendous! Celebrating the end of slavery in the U.S. is something everyone, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, or country of origin, can celebrate.
June 19, 1865 in Galveston, Texas was the day that the last state to retain slavery, Texas, declared all slaves free – 33 months after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
The Fourth of July, Independence Day, is our national holiday celebrating the political independence of the United States from England. As we all learned in elementary school, that revolution began with the Declaration of Independence which contained this immortal sentence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
At that time, an additional 18 percent of the American population in 1776 was in fact enslaved, and counted only as part of a “man” for census purposes to calculate House of Representative districts.
So Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day, Liberation Day, or Freedom Day, celebrates the end of legal slavery, and the beginning of our struggle to fully embrace the idea that all men (and women) means precisely that: ALL. The dark shadow of slavery and racism began to recede on that first Juneteenth, even as it continues to hang on in our society as one of America’s “original sins.” Just like the Declaration of Independence, Juneteenth is an aspirational holiday and will not be truly “Liberation Day” until the scourge of systemic racism is finally eliminated. It is way past time to finally make good on the promise of equality and freedom that sits at the center of our democracy. By making Juneteenth a National Holiday and celebrating it in our national consciousness, we will bring truth at last to the belief that we are all created equal, and begin to move into a future of true justice. A future of harmonious racial peace and of a genuine belief that achieving equality for all means a rising economic, political, and moral society that will enjoy the fruits of that harmony.
We end this article with this observation from the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
“If the cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. Because the goal of America is freedom, abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny.”