Growing up in Allegany County was a very ‘white’ experience. Half of my family tree runs through the town of Whitesville. Tales were told of the Angelica Regiment who fought in the Battle of Bull Run in Manassas, Virginia. As a student, our teachers told stories of the role Allegany County played in the Underground Railroad. On the whole, the little world I grew up in (still am), is proud to be on the “right” side of history when considering the end of slavery in the United States.
Being proud of that history was, and still is, mostly removed from the daily life in Allegany County. We, like all citizens of the nation, have been challenged by social movements like Black Lives Matter, forced to confront ourselves and each other. Everyone in the United States is now much more keenly aware of the struggle and violence that remains for the Black American in the shadow of slavery.
That growing awareness still has a long way to go. I’m about as socially liberal of a white guy as you can find, but I didn’t know much about “Juneteenth”. If you don’t know about the holiday, which most Black Americans have been celebrating for over a century in the United States, then a serious lack of cultural and national understanding exists. I don’t feel guilty about that, I feel ignorant, but less so now that this new national holiday is the law of the land.
This week, the US Senate, The House of Representatives, and the President, passed the law establishing June 19th as “Juneteenth”, a national holiday celebrating the end of slavery. For Black Americans this recognition is long over due, and is essential in the national conversation surrounding race. Establishing Juneteenth as a national holiday is, in many ways, our country finally and formally recognizing what history has laid bare. The evils of human slavery are part of our national history, as well as the fight against that evil.
National holidays are designed to recognize important points in our history, to enter these moments into our permanent collective culture. Whether it is Presidents Day or the Fourth of July, national holidays give all citizens the day to celebrate, or not. Even if you don’t celebrate Patriots Day, the holiday forces a level of awareness and reflection on all Americans. Establishing a national holiday is often the first step in our collective understanding. 9/11 Patriots Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Fourth of July, and Memorial Day are all legal holidays we mark and naturally learn more about each year. Would those historical bookmarks have slowly disappeared from our culture if they weren’t declared national holidays?
Juneteenth has finally come of age in the United States. This holiday has already impacted my very white life in Wellsville, NY which was necessary. I should have had a better understanding of this and would have if Juneteenth had been a holiday when I was a student at Wellsville high. My friends who despise racism and all of its manifestations are very happy. My friends who feel that “woke” politics is a menace and still hold some racists beliefs are not very happy. Both groups of my Allegany County friends are now much more aware of the history of slavery and the long shadow it cast over our nation. Awareness creates understanding. Happy Juneteenth!!!!
Recommended reading on the subject and of Opal Lee, a major leader of the movement to create this holiday.