Why Juneteenth? Why Now?
June 21, 2021
By Kenny Xu
Lickety-split Congress creates a new federal holiday, Juneteenth. A federal holiday is something of real significance. Federal offices are closed while the employees are paid. States follow suit. Stock market trading is usually suspended. And many businesses follow by providing their employees with a paid day off. In fact, just one federal holiday eliminates .5% of all work days. So, this is no small matter. Which brings us to the question – why did Juneteenth become the 11th federal holiday — the first new holiday in almost four decades? And why now?
Federal holidays commemorate highly significant events in America’s history, a major religious holiday, and the start of the New Year. Juneteenth could be considered a major event in America’s history in the sense that it celebrates the emancipation of African American slaves. Harvard University describes the holiday as “long celebrated as an Independence Day in the African American community,” and CNN describes the holiday as “the oldest regular U.S. celebration of the end of slavery.”
However, there is little evidence that Juneteenth, which first started as a holiday specific to Texans, is the oldest or the most celebrated holiday of emancipation among African Americans that our leaders on legacy media emphasize it does. Cleveland investigative journalist Afi-Odelia Scruggs writes: “emancipation celebrations were commonly observed all around the country during the late 19th and early 20th centuries… [and] they marked the days each state was freed, not the Texas holiday [June 19th].” He goes on to say that Juneteenth celebrations “died out during Jim Crow” and did not gain national carriage or attention even from Black Americans until after 1968, “in the wake of Martin Luther King’s assassination.” Even prominent Black intellectual Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who grew up in a poor family in West Virginia, says that “I never heard of the holiday until I went off to college.”
This raises suspicion that the holiday is in fact designed to commemorate African American history; rather, we must look at the words of those who introduced the federal holiday bill for answers as to its true intention.
Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, who introduced the bill, claimed the “federal holiday to commemorate the end of chattel slavery, America’s original sin, and to bring about celebration, crushing racial divide down to a point of unity.” This description, especially the comment about slavery being “America’s original sin,” comes straight out of the 1619 Project, which talks of slavery being the “original sin… more than that: It is the country’s very origin.” This centering of America’s sinful origin on slavery, of course, would offend many Native Americans, Asian Americans, working class whites, and religious minority groups, and rather than promoting unity, instead pushes a racialist progressive narrative into our history.
Representative Guy Reschenthaler, Republican of Pennsylvania, said he was supporting the bill because the holiday would “highlight the important history and contribution of Black Americans.” Yet, the contributions of Black Americans are far more significant than the fact of the horrible enslavement they endured. So why not actually celebrate the accomplishments of great Black Americans, as does MLK day? We already have a federal holiday celebrating the pinnacle of Black American accomplishment – yet we need another one?
Senator John Cornyn claims it was created as a “gesture of racial reconciliation.” Yet, in what way will this holiday lead to a racial reconciliation? How will this holiday quell the many controversies in America over race relations? Those controversies include:
Mandating — or prohibiting — the teaching of Critical Race Theory in schools
Requiring employees to undergo Diversity, Equality and Inclusion training that claims whites are racist
Taking down of statutes that some feel are offensive
Renaming products, holidays, and more
Imposing racial quotas on boards of public companies
Cancelling classic books like Dr. Seuss
The truth is that the recent push to install Juneteenth as a federal holiday has come from corporate activists and progressive journalists. Ironically, early national awareness of Juneteenth came in 2020 because big corporations installed the holiday as a “Healing Day” and a “Day of Solidarity” from the death of George Floyd. The bubbling up of attention to Juneteenth came from corporate America seeking to position themselves as “woke,” not from ordinary African American grassroots enthusiasm for the holiday.
Instead of creating a holiday introduced with 1619 Project rhetoric and pushed forward with the help of corporate activists, our leaders should be promoting policies that truly highlight the many ways Americans respect and honor each other — and focus on how the wonders of our civil society bring together folks of all backgrounds. Our leaders should be making statements and passing laws that truly bring us together — rather than divide.