Today is the first nationally recognized, federal holiday commemorating Juneteenth, the day two months after Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House, ending the Civil War despite some branches of the Confederate Army did not officially surrender until June. Juneteenth (originally known in some areas as Jubilee Day) had been commemorated in Texas officially since 1980, although celebrations had occured since 1866. Today’s holiday signed into law by President Joe Biden is called the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act.
It is thought of by many as the Second Independence Day. According to Gladys L. Knight in the Juneteenth entry of the Encyclopedia of African American Popular Culture, Juneteenth is the “longest-running African American holiday.”
As the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery and the Fourteenth recognizes the enslaved population as United States citizens, Juneteenth is equally important to their descendants. I firmly believe that all of us should be celebrating and commemorating Juneteenth the way we celebrate the 4th of July. The 4th commemorates our independence from the British, and Juneteenth commemorates those not included at that time despite their long standing contributions to the country’s advancement.
I see some controversy online and in the week’s news that Juneteenth is meant to replace July 4th and we should be “offended” by its declaration. That is not the case at all, and we should not let pettiness and bigotry get in the way of knowing our own history.
It is not anymore reasonable than suggesting that September 11th replaced our commemoration of Pearl Harbor Day. Or that Memorial, Veterans’, and Armed Forces Days are interchangeable. Each one represents a different aspect of our country’s past and observes its tragedy and its renewed purpose.
There is plenty of room in our calendars and our communities to commemorate the day that all of those enslaved Africans were free and became American citizens by virtue of their birth.
Take some time today to think about what the holiday represents, how meaningful it is, not only to African Americans, but to all Americans who value freedom and liberty.
For those who think we have too many holidays, and wonder: who’s next? I have a suggestion for you. Perhaps we should find a way to commemorate the first Americans, the Native Americans, those who cared for the land and lived valuable lives before the Europeans came to their continent and disrupted them, to put it mildly.
We, as a country have a lot to think about, and those thoughts and future decisions shouldn’t feel threatening to anyone in this country.
When I was growing up, it was a world of embracing the melting pot and the encouragement of learning the cultures that surround us in our lives, that aren’t our own, learning about our differences and relishing in how much we are alike.
We should all be able to celebrate African American freedom and the abolition of slavery. We should all want to celebrate that. What is there for us to celebrate that is more important than that?