Earlier last week on Tuesday, the U.S. Senate voted unanimously to make “Juneteenth National Independence Day” a federal holiday. Many Americans have never even heard of “Juneteenth” until recently garnering media attention. And for good reason. Comparing “Juneteenth” to other events in history, the date does not matter much.
During the events of the civil war of America, on January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves in the rebel states of the South. It wasn’t until December 18, 1865, that Congress outlawed slavery throughout the country with the ratification and proclamation of the Thirteenth Amendment.
Both of those dates related to the events of the civil war are massive compared to what happened on June 19, 1865, after General Gordon Granger entered Texas and announced that Lincoln had freed the slaves three years earlier.
As of this writing, our national calendar includes 10 federal holidays each year. Every American knows each one of these days by heart. And each one of these cherished holidays involved an expression of giving thanks.
We thank God on Thanksgiving, Christmas and even Independence Day. Washington’s Birthday, Columbus Day, and Martin Luther King Jr. Day were established to express our national appreciation for the great men and women who helped build this wonderful free country. We give thanks to our servicemen and the ones who are no longer with us on Veterans Day and Memorial Day.
But gratitude seems conspicuously absent from the recent recognition of “Juneteenth.” It commemorates no concrete act or particular man but rather an overdue, inconclusive episode on the never-ending march toward progress. If legislators merely wanted to mark the end of slavery, both the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment seem better candidates than a local tradition from Galveston, Texas.
“This national holiday will serve as a powerful reminder that we cannot run from our past,” explained Democrat representative Rashida Tlaib during debate over the bill. “It’s also a recognition that we have so much work to do to rid this country of systemic racism, discrimination, and hate,” added Democrat Brenda Lawrence.
“Juneteenth has never been a celebration of victory,” Obama tweeted, “or an acceptance of the way things are. It’s a celebration of progress. It’s an affirmation that despite the most painful parts of our history, change is possible — and there is still so much work to do.”
The perpetual revolution to fundamentally transform our country never acknowledges victory. The revolutionaries contend that there must always be more work to be done to emancipate ourselves, not from the tangible chains of chattel slavery, but from the more oppressive bonds of tradition and society.
Our new National Independence Day recognizes no such victory. It refuses to enjoy or even accept our nation as She is. There will always remain too much work to be done.