Sweet Land Of Liberty
Just as we prepare to celebrate our independence from England’s rule on the Fourth of July, another celebration of freedom has come to the attention of Americans. Following recent weeks of unrest, the possibility of June 19 becoming a national holiday has been raised. Known as Juneteenth, it honors the date in 1865 when enslaved people in Texas finally received word of their freedom and has been celebrated in Black communities for more than 150 years. Juneteenth has been recognized by nearly every state since 1980, though not observed by many.
Our country is currently in the throes of acknowledging that for centuries, a deeply ingrained European standard has been applied to endless facets of life, and that it has not often been to the benefit of people of color of our nation. Education, jobs, housing, health, and justice have all been compromised for the nonwhite population since the earliest days of our country’s founding.
The end to slavery in 1863 was a significant step forward, and Black people hailed that moment as a sign of hope for better lives, when they would be seen as equal in the eyes of all. But history has shown us otherwise. The struggle for equality has been steeped in violence, unkept promises, and racism despite a government elected to be by the people and for the people… all of the people.
History has been presented from a very white point of view for decades. The Trail of Tears, Wounded Knee, and the internment of Japanese American citizens are but a few of the under-taught, unpleasant pieces of our history, along with the Tulsa Massacre of 1921. Not all American history is presented in a way that does not sweep embarrassing atrocities under the rug or barely emphasize the impact people of color have had in building this nation. History without all of the historical content is a biased look at the formation of this country. To leave minorities wondering where they fit in after generations of contributions is an error in omission. Claiming ignorance is no excuse.
We have the good and the ugly sides of history at our fingertips. Knowing or caring about history that, while painful to acknowledge, can serve as lessons for a better future is a step forward.
New York and Pennsylvania have in recent weeks declared Juneteenth a paid holiday for state employees. Cities across the country are declaring June 19 a holiday. It is Congress, though, that has the power to declare a day as a national holiday, and this year’s awareness may be the catalyst firing legislation to action on this accord.
Start with Juneteenth, then consider how many others there are, worthy of having just one day each year to be honored — after hundreds of years of neglect. Can we truly be “free” without statues and parades honoring the courageous who actually epitomize what our country stands for, and until people of color are no longer excised from historical common knowledge?
Let freedom ring.