Numerous Steps, Many Stones Later
Juneteenth Becomes a Federal Holiday
Progress comes in small steps or to paraphrase a wise saying: “To move mountains, you have to lift small stones.” After many steps and stones, the United States will now recognize Juneteenth as a federal holiday to recognize, celebrate, and encourage freedom.
It is amazing to realize that even as recently as a few years ago, the significance of June 19, 1865, hardly resonated among most Americans. But last year, Juneteenth emerged as a singular bright spot among a rising pandemic and ongoing social unrest.
Admittedly, my full understanding evolved over the years related to Juneteenth . For those who knew a little something, it was directly related to the preparation of the Emancipation Proclamation – signed by President Abraham Lincoln on Sept. 22, 1862, and formally issued on January 1, 1863. With this document, Lincoln declared that all enslaved people in the United States shall be freed.
In actuality, Juneteenth recognizes the very day – June 19, 1865 – in which the last slaves in the United States were actually made aware of their freedom under that proclamation.
As our country grows and progresses in its understanding, we are all seeing more how this is an essential part of American history. I am especially encouraged that all but 14 of our Senators and Representatives voted to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. I am even more proud that President Joe Biden signed the bill into law today!
Numerous steps were taken – indeed, many stones were lifted – to get to this moment.
It reminds me of the herculean effort to establish a holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Even after President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983, it took three more years for the first official observance. After resistance from many states which ignored the day or combined it with other holidays, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was officially observed in all 50 states for the first time in 2000. That’s almost two decades later!
The day has since evolved from a “day off” to a “day on” as hundreds of thousands of people recognize the day each year as a National Day of Service. And I pray that an evolution continues with Juneteenth.
Take Action and Enjoy:
A National Day of Freedom in Atlanta
As then-superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, I designated Juneteenth last year as a recognized paid holiday for staff in the hope that it would offer them a moment of reflection on this historic event during one of our nation’s most historic times.
I have my reasons to be hopeful that Juneteenth, too, eventually will become a National Day of Freedom – a new Independence Day, if you will, for us all to celebrate!
In my own city of Atlanta, several groups are celebrating Juneteenth in diverse ways, including groups involved in a parade that leads into a three-day festival at Centennial Park. The National Center for Civil and Human Rights has created a virtual Juneteenth experience. Atlanta Contemporary is holding a fashion show featuring Tiffanie Barriere. A Gala in the Garden will be held at the community garden at Second Avenue and Hosea.
And as a runner, I am excited about all the feet on the street for the Juneteenth 5K at Chastain Park.
That’s great progress from only a few years ago when Juneteenth hardly made a blip on most community calendars. Some day soon, I believe, the date will be filled with opportunities of love, celebration, service, and, of course, freedom.
We just need to take more steps and lift more stones to get there.