Trump delaying rally makes it seem Juneteenth is someone else’s celebration. But all Americans should mark major milestone against slavery: Our view

When President Donald Trump decided last month to delay his rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, by a day so it wouldn’t conflict with the slavery-to-freedom celebration known as Juneteenth, he said he did it “out of respect” for the holiday and at the request of “many of my African American friends and supporters.”

The delay was the right call, but the president left the impression that Juneteenth is someone else’s special occasion. It’s not that. Or at least it shouldn’t be. Not anymore.   

Juneteenth, a linguistic blend of June and nineteenth, commemorates June 19, 1865, the day a Union general told enslaved people there they were free, after the last of Confederate forces surrendered in that state. It memorializes — if not precisely, because the 13th Amendment ending slavery would not be ratified for six more months — the end of Americans owning other Americans, the original sin of the United States. 

Hell of slavery

If Independence Day marks white America’s freedom from the tyranny of British rule, Juneteenth marks a major milestone in Black America’s freedom from the tyranny of bondage. At long last, the nation was taking its first tentative step toward completing the circle Thomas Jefferson (himself a slaveholder) articulated as the core principle of the Declaration of Independence — that “all men are created equal.” 

It’s why Juneteenth cries out to be a federal holiday. 

From almost the moment slavery’s demise was declared in Texas, freed African Americans and their descendants celebrated Juneteenth — first in Texas, then across the South and northward as families migrated during the 20th century.

The day has been a warmly embraced occasion filled with reunions, parades and feasting, with an emphasis on customarily red treats such as strawberry soda, red beans and rice, and red velvet cake — foods of a color symbolically emblematic of ingenuity and resilience in bondage.

Texas first recognized it as a paid holiday, in 1980. Today, 47 states and Washington, D.C., mark Juneteenth as either a holiday or an observance.

The momentum to seize upon the day as something for all of America to celebrate is expanding in harmony with the mounting national demand for racial justice following the police killing — slowly in the street, with a knee pinned on the neck — of unarmed George Floyd in Minneapolis in May.

Whites for Black Lives Matter

An estimated 15 million to 25 million people in 2,500 towns and cities took to the streets after Floyd’s death, half to two-thirds of them white. The Black Lives Matter movement at the center of the demonstrations is now believed to be largest social protest effort in the nation’s history. And books about racism are best-sellers.

The shared national exhaustion with inequality has reached a fever pitch, and a growing embrace of Juneteenth reflects that. Major corporations such as J.C. Penney, Nike, Spotify, Target, Twitter and Uber have recently declared it a company holiday. New York and Virginia just joined the states reserving it as a paid holiday for their workers. 

In Congress, a bipartisan duo from Texas, Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Republican Sen. John Cornyn, are coordinating efforts to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. Two-thirds of Americans would like to see that happen.

It won’t necessarily be easy. The last federal holiday, to commemorate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was proposed in 1968 and didn’t become a reality for nearly 20 years. Others are suggesting alternatives to Juneteenth, including the dates marking the ratification of the 13th Amendment (Dec. 6, 1865) or the Emancipation Proclamation (effective Jan. 1, 1863).

The important consideration is a holiday each year that would perpetually serve as a means for Americans of every race to remember, learn about and celebrate the nation’s enduring, but unfinished, aspiration of liberty and justice for all.

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