One more holiday?

~a column by Colleen O’Brien

June nineteenth is a ceremonial holiday (meaning you don’t get off work) in several states in the U.S.; it has never been declared a national holiday.

Juneteenth, sometimes called Freedom Day, sometimes called Emancipation Day, is an American holiday celebrated by African Americans because they were freed from enslavement. It grew out of the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas, and more generally the emancipation of enslaved African Americans throughout the former Confederate States of America.

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln presented the Emancipation Proclamation:

“I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves…shall be free….”

The Emancipation Proclamation is one of the world’s oldest formal governmental moves to abolish slavery. It is said to have lifted the Civil War from an economic dispute to the level of a crusade for human freedom.

Word did not immediately get to all of the country’s 3.5 million enslaved African Americans, so two and a half years later, on June 19, 1865, when a general in the Union Army rode into Galveston and announced that all slaves in the former Confederate states had been declared free, the date was set in history and by the next year had become a day of celebration among former slaves. Smilar to Lincoln’s proclamation, the wording of the general’s announcement that he was tasked with passing on to Texans is:

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a
proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves
are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and
rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection
heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer
and hired labor.”

There is more – an unsubtle reminder to the newly unenslaved that they are still thought of as less than:

“The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes
and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed
to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness
either there or elsewhere.  -District of Texas, Galveston, June 19, 1865

I can’t find any rules, laws or proclamations that admonished whites not to be idle, before or after we wrested our freedom from the English overlord.

Several states do not recognize Juneteenth as worthy of an official holiday; these states are Hawaii, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah. Arizona held out until 2016. Because none of these were Confederate states and some were not even states at all at the time, I’m not sure what the reluctance is now. To honor a second independence day for those in this country who didn’t always get to rejoice the fourth of July with white people seems like an honorable bit of legislation for any elected group to pass.

Some folks hold a reluctance to add any more holidays for the American workforce. We now have seven. Brazil, Finland, Sweden and France have 30. Russia has 28. If we added one more, Juneteenth, for instance, we would be on a par with our former masters, the Brits, instead of our current ranking in which we have the same number of holidays as Mexico.

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