Juneteenth gets its due

Published 12:01 pm Wednesday, June 22, 2022

In the contentious debate over how and what public schools should teach students about racism, one thing both sides purport to agree on is the need for unvarnished instruction on America’s complicated, often shameful, track record on race.

“We must equip our teachers to teach our students the entirety of our history – both good and bad,” Gov. Glenn Youngkin wrote in an early executive order banning “inherently divisive concepts” in the classroom. “From the horrors of American slavery and segregation, and our country’s treatment of Native Americans, to the triumph of America’s Greatest Generation against the Nazi Empire, the heroic efforts of Americans in the Civil Rights Movement, and our country’s defeat of the Soviet Union and the ills of Communism, we must provide our students with the facts and context necessary to understand these important events.”

Juneteenth, which will be recognized Monday as America’s newest federal holiday, is such a chapter in our country’s history that cannot be ignored.

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Also known at various times as Jubilee Day, Emancipation Day, Freedom Day and Black Independence Day, Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in 1865, when the announcement of General Order No. 3 by Union Gen. Gordon Granger declared freedom for enslaved people in Texas, the last state of the Confederacy where institutional slavery lingered.

President Abraham Lincoln had actually issued the Emancipation Proclamation some six months earlier, but it was slow to have its intended effect. Texas, the most remote state of the former Confederacy, was one such place. Slavery actually remained legal in two of the Union border states, Delaware and Kentucky, until the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in December 1865.

Informal celebrations of Juneteenth began in 1866 and took various forms over the decades that followed. Every U.S. state and Washington, D.C., have formally recognized the holiday in some way. In 2020, then-Gov. Ralph Northam signed an executive order recognizing Juneteenth as a paid day of leave for state employees in Virginia. But it wasn’t until last summer that Juneteenth, with the stroke of a pen by President Biden, became the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was adopted in 1983.

As with many federal holidays, we hope it doesn’t become just another day off from work but an important time of reflection and, yes, celebration of righting one of our country’s greatest wrongs: the enslavement of a population of people who have greatly enriched the American fabric.