Celebrating Juneteenth should not be a divisive issue. Instead, it should be the commencement of a fortnight of freedom ending with the Fourth of July. Tying the two independence days together might help our country recognize both the exceptional principles behind its founding and our historical failures living up to those ideals.
Now, with a federal holiday after President Joe Biden signed a bipartisan bill supported by most members of Congress, including the entire Colorado delegation, maybe we might be headed down that path. It would be a welcome relief.
Frequently derided as a “fake holiday” in the past, Juneteenth is a reminder that the freedom we celebrate on the Fourth of July has never been a perfect freedom. Instead, it is something that requires constant work and attention and correction.
The holiday commemorates the day Union Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln two years earlier. Until that point, local leaders in Texas refused to free slaves regardless of Lincoln’s command.
It is the two years that is particularly notable.
Neither Lincoln’s edict nor the end of the Civil War actually produced the freedom they espoused. Neither did the passage of the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery, which would be ratified by December 1865.
It took direct action in Texas itself.
That should be instructive to anyone dealing with policies surrounding race and bias today. Despite a 150-year interval since slavery was snuffed out, protecting freedom continues to require ongoing, direct action.
Our country is still plagued by the lingering effect of slavery and the institutions it left in its wake. The abolishment of slavery did not create equality. And as I have said on multiple occasions in the past, liberty without equality is a stunted, malformed version of liberty.
Slavery was like a grievous wound inflicted on the body of our country and its ideals long ago. The initial emergent care may stanch bleeding and create a basis for repair, but scar tissue and lingering effects continue to abound. Only regular, disciplined rehabilitation -– through many long, painful reiterations –- can bring the body back to something close to how we envision it.
Missed sessions, improper exercise technique or later injury can lead to setbacks and start overs.
Our country’s history is replete with such setbacks. From the doctrine of “separate, but equal” to Jim Crow-era laws or disparities in housing and voting, we have yet to deliver on the full promise of freedom America was founded upon. Even the academic review of such policies and their long-term effects has led to heated debate that mires progress and entrenches opponents.
But here is the good news: It does not need to happen overnight. To the contrary, it cannot. Even if we could agree on a perfect plan, it would take decades to execute. More important is the continual, disciplined work toward progress. More important is the desire to improve and eradicate the vestiges of slavery inherent in racial disparities.
More important is the cause of freedom and the ever-evolving pursuit of its perfection.
Comparing and contrasting Juneteenth to the Fourth of July is folly. Neither is an indictment of the other. Neither represents competing sets of principles or beliefs. Neither is meant to pit one set of people against another.
They are simply two different points along the same path. Both represent the aspirational ideals of our American dream. Viewed in conjunction, they are both acknowledgment that even our best intentions are rarely perfect and a celebration of our continued dedication to improving upon them.
We now have two national holidays set two weeks apart celebrating our commitment to freedom. The interim is the perfect time to reflect on how we can improve upon that commitment, for ourselves and our future generations.
Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, healthcare, and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq
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