UPDATED: The Senate just passed S.475 on Tuesday to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. No lawmaker objected to passage of the legislation for commemorating the end of slavery, and it now goes to the House, which is expected to pass it today.
“Making Juneteenth a federal holiday is a major step forward to recognize the wrongs of the past — but we must continue to work to ensure equal justice and fulfill the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation and our Constitution,” stated Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Let’s take him at his word! Tell your senators to pass S.1 – For the People Act and stop all the Jim-Crow voter suppression laws taking place around the country! Then, let’s work on HR 40 – Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act and H.R. 55 – Emmet Till Antilynching Act.
Action #1: Let’s join Opal Lee in making Juneteenth a federal holiday! And then let’s ask for more!
“Juneteenth, also known as “Emancipation Day” or “Freedom Day,” is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States; however, it is not a national holiday. All of that will change if it has anything to do with the will of Opal Lee, a formidable 94-year-old who goes by the moniker Ms. Opal. If this indomitable nonagenarian has her way, Juneteenth (June 19) will become a federal holiday celebrated with all the pomp and circumstance of the Fourth of July because, as she reminds everyone, “We weren’t free in 1776!…Ms. Opal hopes that if she achieves her goal, the day will return to its original intent of educating, celebrating, informing, and bringing all people together. “I don’t mean just Black people,” she muses. “Nobody is free until we’re all free”
Over the past 40 years, 47 of 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have come to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday or a day of observance (exceptions are North Dakota, South Dakota and Hawaii) , but it’s not yet a federal holiday.
Let’s do our part. Call your legislators, even if this bill is passed before the day is out, and ask for more.
UPDATED Minimal script for Representatives: I’m calling from [zip code] and I want to thank Rep. [___] for voting “YES” on H.R.1320 – Juneteenth National Independence Day Act. Now that our country has recognized the importance of Juneteenth, it’s time to address other justice issues long denied. We ask Rep. [___] to encourage their fellow legislators to vote “YES” on HR 40 – Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act and H.R. 55 – Emmet Till Antilynching Act, and H.R. 4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.
UPDATED Minimal script for Senators: I’m calling from [zip code] and I want to thank Sen. [___] for voting to approve S.475 – Juneteenth National Independence Day Act. But this long-delayed acknowledgement of the end of enslavement is bittersweet in a time when states are passing Jim Crow-style voting laws. Please tell the Senator to vote “YES” on S.1 – For the People Act, removing the filibuster if necessary, because we are still waiting for Frederick Douglass’ more inclusive and more perfect Union – removing dark money from politics; stopping partisan gerrymandering, and allowing every citizen to vote freely and fairly.
(Repeat every day through Friday.)
Action #2: Sign Opal Lee’s petition and register for her walk.
- Sign her petition here. (Currently at 1,606,819 signatures!)
- Register to walk virtually with her here.
“Hello, I am Opal Lee from Fort Worth, TX and I am 94 years old. I want Juneteenth to be recognized as a National Holiday. Yes, Juneteenth originated in TX, but 47 states now have it as a state day of observance to commemorate the ending of slavery and more are making it a paid day off including Virginia, New York, and Texas. I believe Juneteenth can be a unifier because it recognizes that slaves didn’t free themselves and that they had help, from Quakers along the Underground Railroad, abolitionists both black and white like Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison, soldiers and many others who gave their lives for the freedom of the enslaved.
I started a walking campaign to Washington, DC 2016 and have continued it to bring awareness to the fact that there is support for it all across this nation. There is legislation in the Senate S.4019 and in the House H.R.7232 – Juneteenth National Independence Day Act – that just needs to be passed into law.
It is not lost on me that the summer of 2020 saw the largest support of Juneteenth to be a national holiday because of the death of George Floyd highlighted the systemic racism that still exists because of the residual effects of slavery. We can’t let the swell of support just simply disappear until the summer rolls around again. We have make sure Congress follows through with their committment to honor the lives of those who came before us.
My goal with this petition and my walk is to show the Congress and the President that I am not alone in my desire to see national recognition of a day to celebrate “Freedom for All”. Will you please sign my petition to let them know as well? You can get more information at www.opalswalk2dc.com
Deeper Dive – why Juneteenth is so important, 150+ years later.
“The Civil War defined us as what we are and it opened us to being what we became, good and bad things… It was the crossroads of our being, and it was a hell of a crossroads.”
― Shelby Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative
But we’re apparently still standing in the middle of it. A Confederate flag paraded through our Capitol on Jan. 6th and statues of slaveholders are still vigorously defended. Generations have studied the Civil War in textbooks neutered by the Daughters of the Confederacy, skillful propagandists who embedded the “Lost Cause” – a false narrative that their fight was heroic, just, and not centered on slavery, despite contrary evidence such as the Cornerstone speech and declarations from seceding states.
Alabama still celebrates the birthdays of Robert E. Lee and Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and joins Mississippi and South Carolina in a state holiday for Confederate Memorial Day, which is also commemorated in Kentucky, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, and Tennessee.
It’s time to set the record straight. “By the early 1870s, these were the three clear memories of the war: the Lost Cause, Union Cause, and Emancipationist Cause.” While we continue to dismantle the Lost Cause myth, we have forgotten that the Union Cause was also subverted by time and white supremacy, the latter still trying to mute it, in some cases, literally, in our modern day.
Former slaves originally created “Decoration Day” to celebrate emancipation and commemorate those who died fighting for the Union. It was gradually stripped of its partisan roots and converted to the non-partisan national holiday of Memorial Day, a general patriotic celebration of all soldiers and veterans, regardless of the nature of the wars in which they participated. “It came about in the Jim Crow period as the Northern and Southern ruling classes sought to reunite the country around apolitical mourning, which required erasing the “divisive” issues of slavery and Black citizenship. These issues had been at the heart of the struggles of the Civil War and Reconstruction.“
It’s time for an official acknowledgement of the Emancipationist Cause, described by Frederick Douglass as the most important accomplishment of the war. “...for Douglass, African Americans not only had a place in the United States, but also represented the nation’s salvation from the moral quagmire of slavery. Douglass’ moral patriotism coalesced into a coherent vision in the 1850s. In speeches and writings throughout the decade, Douglass stressed the need for Americans to return to the founding tenets envisioned in the Declaration of Independence—tenets that demanded the inclusion of African Americans as equal members of the nation—in order to save the country and the world. He paired visions of a bright future with fiery condemnation of the present, fallen state of the nation.” [He]dedicated his life to the creation of a more inclusive—and more perfect—Union that extended full equality to African Americans and women.”
More than 150 years later, we’re still struggling to achieve the moral and equal nation that Douglass envisioned, but that makes Juneteenth even more important to be recognized on a national level. States Jamelle Bouie: “Juneteenth may mark just one moment in the struggle for emancipation, the the holiday gives us an occasion to reflect on the profound contributions of enclave Black Americans to the cause of human freedom. It gives us another way to recongnize the central place of slavery and its demise in our national story. and it fives us an an opportunity to remember that American democracy has more authors than the shrewd layer and erudite farmer-philosophers of the Revolution, that our experiment in liberty owes as much to the men and women who toileed in bondage as it does to anyone else in this nation’s history, – Jamell Bouie.
- (fas.org) Juneteenth: Fact Sheet– Updated June 3, 2020
- (American Battlefield Trust) The Declaration of Causes of Seceding States (Primary Source)
- (Southern Living) The Mission of Opal Lee, Fort Worth’s Grandmother of Juneteenth
- (Texas Monthy) Annette Gordon-Reed Explores the Tangled Meaning of Juneteenth
- (WaPo) Five myths about Juneteenth
- (commonplace.online) CIVIL WAR VETERANS AND THE LIMITS OF RECONCILIATION
- (NYTimes) Why Juneteenth Matters – It was black Americans who delivered on Lincoln’s promise of “a new birth of freedom.”
- (Essentialcivilwarcurriculum.com) Frederick Douglass
- (parade) Here are 50 Quotes to Better Understand Juneteenth