Editorial: Let all Americans cherish Juneteenth

  • A staff member from the Freedom School holds up a card during a Juneteenth presentation a year ago in Galveston, Texas.

    A staff member from the Freedom School holds up a card during a Juneteenth presentation a year ago in Galveston, Texas. Stuart Villanueva/The Galveston County Daily News via AP, File

 
Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted6/19/2020 1:00 AM

Juneteenth has been a holiday for many years, but as significant as the event it commemorates was, it is a holiday that largely has escaped notice through most of the suburbs.

What a shame that has been.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The day stands for freedom. And one day it hopefully also will stand for justice and opportunity.

It recognizes the date in 1865 when the last American slaves learned they were emancipated.

On June 19, 1865, more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, and more than two months after the Civil War ended, Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, and informed slaves there of their freedom.

Freedom Day became known as Juneteenth, a word coined out of a combination of June 19th.

Such a historic day. In Austin, Texas, it began being celebrated as a holiday by 1867. But for so many years, the celebrations across the country were largely confined to the black community. Illinois did not officially observe the date until 2003. And although most states now acknowledge Juneteenth as a ceremonial holiday, it has yet to be declared a national holiday.

Such is the legacy of slavery in America. Such is the legacy of white America's unwillingness to deal with the shame of slavery or to come to grips with the inheritance it bequeathed.

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This year, with a movement for racial justice sweeping the nation -- and for that matter, the globe -- the holiday appears to be finally and rightfully coming into its own.

Officials in many states say they want now to move beyond simply acknowledging the day to making it a full-fledged holiday.

Momentum is growing to adopt it as a national holiday too.

Cliff Robinson, who runs the Juneteenth.com website that tracks annual celebrations, told The Associated Press there will be some kind of event in nearly every major U.S. city this year, although some may be virtual observations because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"This is one of the first times since the '60s where the global demand, the intergenerational demand, the multiracial demand is for systemic change," Cornell University segregation expert Noliwe Rooks told AP. "There is some understanding and acknowledgment at this point that there's something in the DNA of the country that has to be undone."

Today is a day for all Americans to recognize and to celebrate.

But it is more than that. It also is a day for all Americans to commit ourselves to work for social justice.

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