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The politics of keeping it moving!

Practical Politics

David L. Horne, PH.D. | 6/18/2020, midnight

This weekend, many in the African-American community will once again celebrate Juneteenth, both at home and at public parks (less the latter this year because of the virus). Partly, the crowds will be inflated because of the obtuseness of a POTUS and the subsequent publicity of his insistence on holding a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma on this weekend a few paces from the site of what can be and has been called America’s worst race riot in history—the 1921 bloodbath in Tulsa’s Greenwood section of town.

So there’ll be a lot of red soda water passed around.

Another part of this celebration will be a repeated, and based on the huge public protests that are continuing, and more insistent advocacy for Juneteenth (June 19th) to be declared a national Black American holiday called Jubilee Day, Emancipation Day, Black Freedom Day, or another such catchy name. The request will be to place it alongside MLK Day as a nationally recognized entity.

This column opposes that purpose.

June 19, 1865, is the day that Gen. Gordon Granger delivered the message in Texas that Black American slavery was over, in the aftermath of the end of the Civil War. That day and the information is what is celebrated as Juneteenth (combining June with nineteen).

The issue here, however, is that Granger’s announcement led to celebrations in Texas and Oklahoma, sure. However, slavery continued in several mainly southern states notwithstanding Granger’s announcement and the Confederacy’s loss in the Civil War. True emancipation from antebellum slavery in the U.S. did not technically occur until six months later, Dec. 6, 1865, when the 13th amendment was ratified by the 27th state (Georgia). Even though an unneeded Mississippi did not ratify the amendment until 2013, that law permanently ended slavery, as a legal institution, in the U.S.A. If there is to be a Jubilee Day, or Emancipation Day, or Freedom Day, that should be the date (December 6), not just Juneteenth, which is certainly critical and important, but not broad enough.

This has been an ongoing debate for at least the last ten of the 154 years Juneteenth has been celebrated. It became a very big discussion—sometimes fiercely debated---during the Obama administration as several advocates tried to convince President Obama to at least declare Juneteenth a national cultural holiday, equal in status to, say, Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14), St. Patrick’s Day (March 17), International Women’s Day (March 8), Holocaust Day (January 27), President’s Day (Feb. 17), etc.  Unfortunately, the Obama years ended with the idea still under discussion. It is far less likely to be positively resolved currently (although it may be an idea to negotiate now with the Biden campaign for the future).

Clearly, the holiday has the cultural credentials to be considered and assigned such a status. The crux of the matter will be when and where the new discussion to change its status occurs.  Advocates need to choose a date to make their case and get it done rather than to wait to see whether a good chance comes up. Not asking for and pursuing this agenda now will make sure it does not succeed.

I, for one, intend to enjoy some bar-be-que, potato salad, watermelon, and red soda water this weekend. Juneteenth is a worthy Black cultural and national holiday in my book already, with or without some official recognition. It is not, however, historically accurate to call it our Emancipation Day.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.