As debates rage surrounding the founding of the U.S. and the fate of long-standing institutions of racism, June 19 was a day of celebration for African Americans. It’s past time we ditch racially charged holidays such as Columbus Day and opt for making Juneteenth a federal holiday instead.
Juneteenth is an African American holiday which commemorates when the Union Army Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to announce the end of slavery and the Civil War. The announcement came in 1865, over two years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
The day first became a celebration in 1866, a year after the tiding of good news. It has continued to be celebrated by the African American community on an annual basis since then, but the greater public remained almost completely ignorant of this holiday as it was excluded from most history textbooks. African Americans didn’t skip a beat. So why did the rest of America?
Columbus Day is observed as a national holiday, despite the horrific abuse and pillaging endured by Native Americans at the hands of Christopher Columbus and colonizers. Why celebrate the eurocentric “founding” of America while we continue to ignore true examples of liberation within our country?
Many reference Juneteenth as America’s second Independence Day, deserving of celebration. Although 46 states recognize Juneteenth as an observance or holiday, its recognition at the federal level is elusive.
A country that prides itself on freedom and independence should be doing more to uplift diverse voices to whom we owe more than a single day of celebration. Rather, the declaration of Juneteenth as a national holiday would be a small step in the right direction.
The history of America’s founding is bleak and full of injustice. However, we have an opportunity to educate our people instead of denying our gruesome past.