Several states and many cities and counties — including some in Florida — are celebrating Juneteenth today.
You may know about Juneteenth, since the day of remembrance has been in the news a lot lately.
For those who may not know, Juneteenth is a day that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. It is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the day, June 19, 1865, the last outpost of Union troops in Galveston, Texas, got word the Civil War was over the slaves were free.
The news came more than two years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which was rarely enforced in Texas because of the few Union troops stationed there. The news of the end of the war was a couple months late — Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered in April of that year — and there are various accounts of why that happened.
When Major Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston with the news, there were finally enough Union troops to enforce Lincoln’s proclamation. Why that hadn’t already happened is a matter of conjecture. There are theories and stories that have been bandied about, including one that said a messenger sent to Texas with the news was murdered on his way there. Another theory is that slavers in Texas withheld the news as long as they could to get in a final cotton harvest.
Nevertheless, June 19 has always been accepted as the day all slaves in the United States were finally free.
With so much racial strife gripping the U.S. today, there are many who believe it should be a national holiday.
It would not be the first time America has made a holiday to mend its relationship with people. Columbus Day comes to mind. The national holiday honors explorer Christopher Columbus but also the achievements of our Italian-American citizens and their heritage.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said earlier this week he will propose making Juneteenth an official holiday in his state. The fact his state is home to the capital of the Confederacy makes that possibility even more notable.
Northam, who called for the holiday to be a paid day off for all state employees, said: “It’s time we elevate this. Not just a celebration by and for some Virginians, but one acknowledged and celebrated by all of us.”
Texas was the first of 45 states to make it an official holiday, in 1980.
Juneteenth is already celebrated as a holiday in many Florida cities and counties. Floridians, as do Americans everywhere, sponsor pageants, picnics and festivals — although the coronavirus will likely curtail and limit celebrations this year.
Even locally, we have heard and know of signs that people and businesses are open to celebrating Juneteenth as a holiday. At least one bank has planned to give its employees a partial day off so they can celebrate.
There is little doubt the death of George Floyd and other unarmed black citizens in recent weeks has stirred the sentiment to embrace this holiday. Perhaps, however, instead of reacting to any guilt or sorrow over those events, we should consider Juneteenth on its own merits and realize it may be long past due to make this day a time to recognize the enormous contributions black people have made to America.
So, we ask you, should Juneteenth be a state holiday? Maybe even a national holiday?
We’ll let the people speak for us.