June 22, 2020

Juneteenth

“Senators on Friday announced legislation to make Juneteenth, a widely observed holiday that marks the federal order to free slaves in Texas on June 19, 1865, a national holiday… The day, which began as a Texas holiday in 1980, is now recognized by 47 states and the District of Columbia as a state holiday or observance and is marking its 155th anniversary this year.” NBC News

Both sides agree that Juneteenth should be a federal holiday:

“The ending of slavery was a defining moment in the moral and civic development of our nation. Freedom, justice, and equality, essential aspects of the Founding, finally began to be legally extended to all Americans. In this way, Juneteenth is another celebration of independence. What’s more, recognition of Juneteenth is just one of many essential steps towards healing the divides in this country. If I’ve taken anything away from the protests and unrest of the past few weeks, it’s that many Americans do not feel heard or seen. We should welcome the bipartisan effort to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.”
Carine Hajjar, National Review

“Newly freed black people celebrated the first Juneteenth in 1866 to commemorate liberation — with food, singing, and the reading of spirituals — and take pride in their progress. But a century and a half later, Juneteenth is still not taught in most schools, nor is the event a federal holiday despite decades of pushing from activists…

“In ‘Teaching the Significance of Juneteenth,’ Shennette Garrett-Scott and others wrote, ‘It is sometimes hard to teach small but pivotal moments in American history. Survey classes mostly allow for covering the biggest events and the most well known people.’ But to help students understand major moments like the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is important to teach the smaller historical milestones. To Garrett-Scott, teaching Juneteenth gives students a fuller picture of the long, enduring fight for freedom.”
Fabiola Cineas, Vox

“Enacting a Juneteenth federal holiday over the next fortnight would be a significant act of national unity at a time when the United States is being torn to pieces amid claims that America is systemically racist, institutionally bigoted, and that ‘Nothing has changed!’ since the days of Jim Crow, as one street protester recently screamed. A Juneteenth holiday would focus on both sides of this American reality: the sin of slavery, which cursed this country and tortured blacks until 1865 and the freedom that they gained under the Emancipation Proclamation and the Union Army’s defeat of the Confederacy. -- That was the beginning of liberty that blacks began to enjoy across America, and with which they contributed mightily to this nation.”
Deroy Murdock, Fox News

Juneteenth “is a celebration of emancipation but also a ‘celebration of the commitment’ to “liberty and equality.’ This idea—that the day’s significance lies in our stated ‘commitment,’ not necessarily our accomplishments—should be key to our celebration… The concept of Juneteenth resonates in part because the day fell in 1865, two-and-a-half years after the date of the Emancipation Proclamation, showing how gradual and patchwork enslaved people’s wartime achievement of freedom was. Emancipation, Juneteenth tells us, was a process.”
Rebecca Onion, Slate

Other opinions below.

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From the Left

“The fact that Juneteenth is primarily celebrated by black Americans, and largely ignored by the rest of the country, is part of a larger problem. America has never truly reckoned with the horrors of slavery. Many would still prefer to just not think about it, or to picture it in benign terms, whitewashed of its true brutality. Making Juneteenth a federal holiday would be far more than a symbolic gesture. It would provide space for growth as a nation

“Many American students graduate high school without ever learning the true horrors of American chattel slavery: the fact that slaves were viciously beaten and often lynched if they ever tried to escape; that parents, children, and partners could be separated and never seen again; that slaves weren’t allowed to read and write; and the unique horrors that black women endured, including medical experimentation and rape… Only by acknowledging its ugly past can a nation begin to heal itself.”
Jamaal Bowman, The Nation

The ugly story didn’t end with the abolition of slavery… In 1921 the Oklahoma city [of Tulsa] was the center of an oil boom, a place to which people in search of opportunity migrated. It boasted a sizable black middle class, centered on the Greenwood neighborhood, which was widely described as the ‘black Wall Street.’ And that was the neighborhood destroyed by white mobs, who looted black businesses and homes, killing probably hundreds. (We don’t know how many because the massacre was never properly investigated.)…

“Even in Northern cities, blacks were often denied opportunities for upward mobility. For example, in 1944 white transit workers in Philadelphia went on strike — disrupting war production — to protest the promotion of a handful of black workers.”
Paul Krugman, New York Times

“It is useful to look at the end of slavery as ‘a near-century-long process’ rather than ‘the work of a moment, even if that moment was a great civil war’… After the Civil War, black Americans — free and freed — would work to realize the promise of emancipation, and to make the South a true democracy. They abolished property qualifications for voting and officeholding, instituted universal manhood suffrage, opened the region’s first public schools and made them available to all children…

“The holiday gives us an occasion to reflect on the profound contributions of enslaved black Americans to the cause of human freedom… And it gives us an opportunity to remember that American democracy has more authors than the shrewd lawyers and erudite farmer-philosophers of the Revolution, that our experiment in liberty owes as much to the men and women who toiled in bondage as it does to anyone else in this nation’s history.”
Jamelle Bouie, New York Times

“Though holidays, symbols, statues, and flags matter, it will take more than increased recognition of Juneteenth to combat racism. If not followed with substantive change, the relatively recent scramble to acknowledge Juneteenth will just feel like virtue signaling, acts of solidarity that ring hollow.”
Kellie Carter Jackson, The Atlantic

From the Right

“There is no one-way arc of history bending toward justice and enlightenment. Often in the course of human history, things get worse. It was probably worse to be a black man in America in 1915 than it had been 40 years earlier. The Ku Klux Klan had arisen. Jim Crow had spread. Governments stripped previously recognized rights from black people. This wasn't just worse for blacks, of course, it was morally worse for the white power structure led by Woodrow Wilson, who re-segregated the civil service…

“‘Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction,’ Ronald Reagan said in his 1964 speech, ‘A Time for Choosing.’ ‘We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.’… We ought to use our holidays as an injection of vigilance and a reminder that none of our gains are permanent.”
Timothy P. Carney, Washington Examiner

“Arguments that the accomplishments celebrated on Juneteenth represent a rejection of America’s irredeemably racist founding are becoming increasingly pronounced…

“However, Juneteenth is not a deviation from, but the fruition of America’s organic law. The seeds of Juneteenth were sowed on July 4 in the Founding Fathers' pronouncement that ‘all men [meaning all human beings] are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’...

“Today, as the country is wracked by division and strife, we would do well to remember that though slavery and racial discrimination are rightfully recognized as a tragic stain on our country’s past, we can still find reason to esteem and identify with America and its promise of liberty and justice for all.”
Christina Villegas, Washington Examiner

“The first Juneteenth, of 1865, marked the date on which Union forces finally had sufficient control over the last Confederate strongholds to enforce a law that had been passed by the United States government years previously, and to liberate in practice people who had been legally free for over two years. In other words, the Juneteenth story demonstrates, probably better than any other, the indispensable necessity of good and trustworthy law enforcement

“Each of the major advances for African Americans living in the United States since the Civil War have been manifest in hard-won legislative victories for which many martyrs of the Civil Rights Movement suffered and died. Without government-backed agencies wielding the monopoly on violence in their jurisdiction, this legislation is nothing more than ink on a page. The men and women in uniform are the ones who give legislation teeth and enforce its enactment on the ground…

“The real problem for African Americans in this country is the gap that exists between laws and their enforcement.”
Cameron Hilditch, National Review

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