Opinion: Juneteenth is an acknowledgment and a celebration

Victor Hagan, Contributing Columnist

In 2021, the United States declared a new federal holiday, Juneteenth, to celebrate the day all enslaved Americans were officially declared free. The holiday has been acknowledged and celebrated by Black Americans for centuries, but its new national presence is a step toward progress.

The choice to make Juneteenth a federal holiday comes from a keen eye on history. Freedom’s Eve marked the day Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery on January 1, 1863. Enslaved African Americans in Texas, however, weren’t freed until June 19, 1865. 

It took nearly two and a half years for Lincoln’s abolition of slavery to come to fruition. Even after official designation, it took months for word to reach the southern states such as Texas, where many slaveholders had retreated to.

While Juneteenth simply acknowledges and celebrates the freedom of enslaved African Americans, some have wrongfully adopted the conclusion that it is an attempt to replace Independence Day.

Growing up with a parent in the Army, I attended my fair share of K-12 schools, most of which were predominantly white. Regardless of the region I lived in, Black History Month was often ignored or weakly approached. The first middle school I attended decided dental hygiene awareness month was more important than Black history. 

Neglecting, or even rejecting, the importance of Black history distinctly proves why it is a necessity. Racism in the United States didn’t end after Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.

My high school SGA advisor once said our school was so diverse that if we had events for Black history month, “we’d have to do so for every other race/ethnicity, which was not viable.” I grew accustomed to hearing “well why isn’t there a white history month,” to which I always responded, “you mean history class?”

It’s difficult enough having two, maybe three other kids in your classes who look like you. Only learning about the same four or five Black historical figures every year further feels like our impact has not been recognized. 

After two hectic years of marches, petitions, and trials, having a national holiday to recognize the freedom of those who built the United States is the least we can do. Sure, a road in D.C. being named Black Lives Matter Street is cool, but what does it really do?

People love Black culture until it’s time to stand up for Black people. Some politicians and political icons even took to Twitter last year to say they’d be sticking with the true Holiday of American Celebration, Independence Day. 

That sentiment made its way to the legislature as two Alabama Representatives, Mike Rogers (R-Saks) and Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville), voted against the holiday’s official designation. They were among only 14 representatives who voted against it. 

There’s no need to pick between holidays. Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery in the United States. Independence Day acknowledges the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. The two can coexist without quarrel. 

If you can’t find peace in that, at least enjoy the extra day off work.