Is this newly minted Federal Holiday designed to commemorate the necessarily long and tortured road from the depravity of slavery to where we are today? A nation celebrating equality under the law, and sufficient and growing opportunities for everyone?
Or is it designed as a platform to perpetuate the dangerous lie that America was built on slave labor, that the Revolution was fought to preserve slavery, and that America is still systemically racist, i.e., racist to its core?
That is the subject of today’s 15 minute episode.
Adding Juneteenth takes us to 12 Federal holidays in 2021. Most years there are “only” 11 Federal paid days off; on presidential election years the Feds add Inauguration Day as the 12th day off. That’s right, Inauguration Day is an excuse to have a paid day off. Of the usual 11 Federal Holidays, 4 of them, over one-third of our holidays, celebrate the necessarily difficult and bloody rise from slavery to freedom, listed in order of their annual celebration:
1. Martin Luther King Day
2. Memorial Day
4. Independence Day
MLK Day is an obvious part of this list. No explanation is needed.
Memorial Day, the day that we remember America’s war dead. In the Civil War, the war fought to preserve the Union and free the slaves, 110,100 Union soldiers died in battle: 67,088 KIA, and 43,012 mortally wounded. 224,580 died of disease. 2,226 were wounded. 1 Army commander, 3 corps commanders, 14 division commanders, and 67 brigade commanders, including 32 generals, were killed in the Union Army. The Emancipation Proclamation, the 13th Amendment freeing the slaves, and obviously, Juneteenth could not have happened without their sacrifices.
Juneteenth is another obvious one for inclusion in this list. And it will be helpful to discuss what this day means, what it stands for, and what led up to it. On September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which declared that as of January 1, 1863, all enslaved people in the states currently engaged in rebellion against the Union “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” But his signing the Proclamation did not free anyone. Not a single slave in the separate nation, the Confederate States, was freed by the Union’s Proclamation. Had the Allies in WWII make a similar proclamation, say in January of 1943, that all of those held in Nazi concntration camps were, “…“thenceforward, and forever free,” nothing would have happened until the Allies defeated Germany and entered the camps as liberators. Same thing with the Civil War. Freedom for the slaves became memorialized in the Constitution when the 13th Amendment was passed by Congress on January 31, 1865; it was ratified December 6, 1865. Let’s look at the wording of this Amendment. “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” The Confederate States were not a part of the United States, and until the surrender were not subject to Union jurisdiction; they had seceded and formed a separate country. Only when the South surrendered on April 6th, 1865, when Lee surrendered to Grant, did the edicts, proclamations and laws of the Union have full force and effect on the seceded states. Only then were we once again one nation. The United States was once again united–not two separate countries with two separate governments and two warring armies. The original Juneteenth occurred on June 19th, 1865 in Galveston, TX, when Major General Gordon Granger read General Order No. 3, announcing to the last town in the US to receive the news, Texas was now again part of the Union, that all the slaves had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. A Proclamation that would have had no force or effect had the Union lost the war, had Grant been the one to have surrendered to Lee at Appomattox two months prior. News travelled slowly in those days, especially when clouded by the “fog of war.” As it still did 80 years later in the weeks after the surrender of Japan in WWII, when the Allies had to send special operations forces to liberate Allied POWS in China who were still being tortured and imprisoned by the Japanese post surrender.
Independence Day. Yes, the Fourth of July has every right to be included in this list. Our two founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, were key to the freeing of the slaves. The Declaration was a breakthrough statement of the rights of man in an age when virtually every government on earth was either a dictatorship or a monarchy. At a time when the disgrace of slavery, first recorded in the dawn of written history in Egypt, including the horrific tasks of building the pyramids, still had its evil grip worldwide. The Constitution, building on the Declaration, was necessarily silent about slavery. There would have been no union if the abolitionists of the day had insisted on abolishing slavery. Any number of the 11 slaveholding states, and likely all of them, would have simply blocked the forming of the nation on the slavery issue alone. What force, what political, financial and military force, would have been in place to square off against and defeat the slaveholding states when everything came into place for that to happen? The 11 Southern states would not have needed to secede from the Union; there would have been no Union from which to secede in the first place. What entity would have opposed them? There would have been no Civil War, no Proclamation, no 13th Amendment, and no Juneteenth.
Let’s hear a supporting voice. “Juneteenth is a perfect answer to those who are promoting critical race theory,” Kay C. James, president of the Heritage Foundation, said in a recent interview. “Juneteenth says, no, we do not need to destroy the very structures of this nation, the things that make us great. That while there were issues or problems in our history, look at how we overcame and are overcoming them.” Exactly. Brava, Ms. James, brava!
And there are powerful voices who do not want to celebrate; they want to use Juneteenth as another lever, another excuse, to further inflame racial tensions for personal and political gain. President Biden said Juneteenth would now be a “day in which we remember the moral stain and terrible toll slavery took on the country,” as he signed the bill surrounded by members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Vice President Harris.
He again turned back to his claim of voter suppression, saying the promise of equality would not be fulfilled. “so long as the sacred right to vote remains under attack.” Using the occasion to continue with the false claim that current voting regulations in certain states are “worse than Jim Crow” (EP. 318), he continued, “We see this assault from restrictive laws, threats of intimidation, voter purges and more.”
“The promise of equality will not be fulfilled until it becomes real in our schools, on our streets and in our neighborhoods, in the water that comes out of our faucets, the air that we breathe in our communities and in our justice system,” the president continued. Was any of this a celebration of continuing, profound progress, or was it a distortion of history, with an eye to fomenting an antagonistic future, a future that he believes would advantage both him and his party.
Attacking from a slightly different angle, and like Biden, ignoring the obvious and near miraculous progress over time, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot declared racism a public health emergency, pointing to systematic racism as a leading factor in life expectancy discrepancies across the city. Joined by the Chicago Department of Public Health, Lightfoot said there is a 9.2-year life expectancy gap (EP. 337) between Black and non-Black Chicagoans. “At almost every single point in our city’s history, racism has taken a devastating toll on the health and well-being of our residents of color–especially those who are Black,” Lightfoot said in a statement. “Without formally acknowledging this detrimental impact, we will never be able to move forward as a city and fully provide our communities with the resources they need to live happy and healthy lives.”
Not to be outdone, yet another entertainer has declared herself to be a political pundit, this time with wild observations and ideas in response to the Juneteenth celebration. Macy Gray, the Grammy-winning singer. shared an op-ed on MarketWatch that said the current flag serves as a “replacement” to the Confederate flag. She went on to say,”The American flag is “Tattered, dated, divisive, and incorrect”, claiming that “it no longer represents democracy and freedom.”
While these voices are distorting history and using inflammatory language to further their agendas, the continuing real, needed progress is slowed if not stopped by their distorted calls to anger and inappropriate action. Shame on them, and shame on us if we buy any of it.
Today’s Key Point: Independence Day, AKA the Fourth of July, and Juneteenth both represent progress and freedom. Stand up and be counted, stand with me.
As always, whatever you do, do it in love. Without love, anything we do is empty. 1 Corinthians 16:14
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Will Luden, coming to you from 7,200’ in Colorado Springs.