Should Juneteenth have been made a national holiday?
- Juneteenth was originally a regional holiday that honored the emancipation of African American slaves. It was founded in Galveston, Texas in 1865 and has been celebrated on June 19 around the United States since then.
- On June 17, 2021, President Biden made Juneteenth a federal holiday. He stated, “Juneteenth marks both a long hard night of slavery, subjugation and a promise of a brighter morning to come.”
- There has been pushback from conservatives such as Michael Knowles of The Daily Wire regarding elevating the local holiday to federal status. Other Republicans have related it back to critical race theory and current claims of widespread American systemic racism.
- In 2019, President Obama tweeted, “On Juneteenth, we celebrate our capacity to make real the promise of our founding, that thing inside each of us that says America is not yet finished, that compels all of us to fight for justice and equality until this country we love more closely aligns with our highest ideals.” In contrast, in 2020 he tweeted, “Juneteenth has never been a celebration of victory, or an acceptance of the way things are. It's a celebration of progress. It's an affirmation that despite the most painful parts of our history, change is possible––and there is still so much work to do.”
- Juneteenth now officially joins ten other federal holidays. The most recent holiday added to the federal calendar was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, adopted in 1983.
The Fourth of July may be the day the US gained independence from British rule, but for Black Americans, June 19, 1865 holds a similar significance as the day that word of the Emancipation Proclamation reached the last of those still held in slavery. Even now, there are many people in the US who don't realize the importance of this day. Making it a national holiday will increase awareness of this very good moment in American history, as well as the ongoing struggle for equality. The entertainer Usher wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post, which underlined this point. He explained how those in the Black community consider Juneteenth to be their 'authentic day of self-determination' and that 'it should be a national holiday, observed by all Americans.' As Harvard law professor Annette Gordon-Reed pointed out, this will be especially important to youth, 'who will grow up seeing Juneteenth alongside July 4, Memorial Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day.' Author Edgar Villanueva noted that the holiday is also of wider importance, saying that slavery 'not only affected people of color, but also the potential growth of a country as a whole.'
Recent events have brought race and equal justice issues to the national spotlight, and this long-overdue recognition could certainly help facilitate an environment conducive to change. Failure to acknowledge such problems leads to history repeating itself, which could be an important step in breaking that cycle. With this increased awareness, we can hope to avoid repeating past mistakes and perhaps come closer to realizing the promise of equality for all.
There's no sense in making Juneteenth a national holiday when current societal talk surrounding race and racism in America is so turbulent. Even President Biden and Vice President Harris don't seem to be using this legislation as a tool for racial reconciliation, but for further division, using it to imply the nation is still endemically racist. Adding Juneteenth as a holiday might cause some to focus on the negative aspects of the holiday's close proximity to slavery—even though it's recognizing the last moments of America officially ending slavery in the final corner of the South. The subject matter alone might escalate the feelings of resentment and unrest in the country.
Likewise, elevating Juneteenth is an obvious political move aimed at making the federal government more appealing. 2020 shows the lack of action taken federally to support Black Americans in policy apart from rhetoric and words. This shows there isn't any genuine concern in the government for Black Americans or their history. Thus, making Juneteenth a national holiday seems only to be a flashy move to appease civil rights activists and groups who are demanding that real change be made. A national holiday recognizing emancipation won't stop racism, but actual legislation could.
Similarly, Juneteenth becoming a national holiday leaves it susceptible to suffering from the same commercialization facing other national holidays, which can cheapen its meaning and significance. As far as money goes as well, a Fortune 500 article revealed only 19 out of a sample size of 1,800 CEOs in America were Black. It seems as though making Juneteenth a national holiday will only put profit into the hands of non-Black CEOs who likely won't use that money to help Black Americans and organizations working towards ending systemic racism.