This coming Saturday, across our nation, towns and cities will set off fireworks to mark our Declaration of Independence.
July Fourth is both a sacred and a joyous holiday. It is both inspirational and thrilling to hear the boom, boom, boom and to see the colorful, sparkling lights that fill the sky. Parades and backyard barbecues help us complete the celebration that marks the time we declared our freedom from the tyrannical rule of King George, III.
Our Founding Fathers led the nearly faltering revolt against British colonial rule, successfully. Voila, we fought and became an independent nation based on the concept that all men are created equal.
Ask any third-grade pupil what July the 4th stands for and it is very likely that she/he will be able to outline the basic reason that we celebrate the fourth day in July.
On the other hand, ask the same pupil what National Freedom Day — on June 19 — celebrates. In fact, ask an adult! To be honest, I had no idea what Freedom Day stood for, nor did I have a clue on what date it was supposed to be celebrated. Yet, it has been celebrated on June 19 for the last 100-plus years. Called Juneteenth, it marks a day equally important to July 4th.
On June 19, 1865, blacks in Galveston, Texas, finally heard the good news! They were, by law, free. They could no longer be held in slavery by whites.
Actually,“On September 22, 1862, Lincoln issued a preliminary emancipation proclamation, and on January 1, 1863, he made it official that “slaves within any State, or designated part of a State…in rebellion,…shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” -History
In fact, “It had been 2½ years since President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, freeing every man, woman and child enslaved in the rebel states. And it had been more than two months since Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee had surrendered, ending the nation’s bloody four-year Civil War. But as the roughly 2,000 soldiers assigned to accompany Union Gen. Gordon Granger came ashore on Galveston Island, Texas, in mid-June 1865, the truth could not be missed. There were still enslaved people in Galveston.
“Some of the men, particularly the colored Union troops out of New York and Illinois, were appalled.
“A group of colored soldiers approached Granger and said it plain: ‘You will do something about this, or we will.’” -NBC, June 19.
Needless to say, the freed men, women, and children were jubilant. Some packed and left the area immediately.
June 19th, became a celebratory day for many Blacks, particularly in Texas and has been observed since 1865.
Yet, remarkably, I had never heard of Juneteenth. I was completely unaware of the holiday. Actually, I am ashamed of my ignorance. Given that I find history intriguing, how did I miss such an important occasion?
My more knowledgeable friends and acquaintances were also oblivious to the date. That only eases my discomfort a tad. Nevertheless, that does not outweigh the fact that we whites have been so blind. It is a blindness born out of our lack of concern for anybody who is different from ourselves. It is a sad commentary on our nation’s concern for all of our citizens.
Astonishingly, none of my history books, in either public school or in college — and I minored in American history — devoted any space to Galveston’s delay in ending slavery.
Plus, “Economic and cultural forces led to a decline in Juneteenth activities and participants beginning in the early 1900’s. Classroom and textbook education in lieu of traditional home and family-taught practices stifled the interest of the youth due to less emphasis and detail on the lives of former slaves. Classroom textbooks proclaimed Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863 as the date signaling the ending of slavery — and mentioned little or nothing of the impact of General Granger’s arrival on June 19th.” -National Registry. https://www.juneteenth.com/history.htm
I was, also, unaware that June 19, is a Pennsylvania state holiday.
Actually, this June 19 was the 1st official celebration of Juneteenth.
On June 19, 2019, Gov. Wolf designated that Pennsylvania should mark June 19, annually, as National Freedom Day.
Naturally, I missed that moment, too.
Luckily, the many areas across our country that celebrated this past Juneteenth were spotlighted in the news. Plus, Gettysburg, held a Juneteenth rally at the town’s Rec. Park on Friday, June 19, The celebration only seems appropriate given that Gettysburg is the site of the pivotal Civil War battle.
Plans are being made for a celebration on June 19, of the coming year. Hopefully, June 19 will be celebrated regularly. One would assume that the holiday will become a regular part of our nation’s holiday celebrations — as commonly observed as Memorial Day and July 4th.
On a positive note, I was startled to discover that 47 of our 50 states have made Juneteenth an official holiday in their states. (Only Hawaii, North Dakota, and South Dakota have ignored Juneteenth.)
Still, I worry that, despite all the intense attention that this year’s Juneteenth has drawn, the holiday may, in a year or two, fade from view.
Ergo, Congress should move — now — to make Juneteenth an official, national holiday. Granted that will not ensure the holiday will become a routinely celebrated occasion, but it certainly enhances its chances.
To do less is a dereliction of our duty. To continue to ignore Juneteenth — especially now that we have been made aware of the day’s importance — is to continue to dismiss the day’s significance. It is a slap in the face of those who value all that the day meant.
That lack of attention to slave history reflects what our culture values.
We, as a country, seem to miss the ironic twist of our nation’s birth. We founded this nation on the principle that “...all men are created equal…” Yet, in reality, we based that founding on the back of slavery.
We should write, call or email our U.S. House representatives and our U.S. senators: Support Sen. Bob Casey’s efforts to declare Juneteenth a national holiday and urge Sen. Pat Toomey and Rep. Scott Perry to support Sen. Casey’s efforts!
We should let them know how staunchly we support making Juneteenth a federal holiday.
Newsman Harry Smith presented a piece about the history of Juneteenth on NBC Nightly News, on June 19.
Often at the end of his broadcasts, Smith, in his melodiously comforting voice signs off with a pithy thought related to his story.
On June 19, this was his final offering.
“By choice we have been blind too long!” -Harry Smith.
Pat Nevada, whose opinions are her own, lives near Gettysburg.