Today is Juneteenth.
For a sizeable segment of the American population, it’s a day that carries a special, often personal meaning. That’s because it celebrates the formal end of legal, institutionalized slavery in the United States. For those whose ancestors endured the horrors of slavery and the slave trade, that meaning is impossible to put into words.
While this day has been celebrated in many forms since the end of the Civil War, it only became a federally recognized holiday in 2021. Now, many could argue it took way too long to formally recognized the importance of this day. I certainly understand and appreciate those sentiments. Regardless of how long it took, Juneteenth is here and we, as a country, are finally acknowledging its importance.
I know there are a lot of heated politics surrounding race, history, the Civil War, and minority issues in general. I’m certainly not qualified to discuss those politics, even though I’ve tried. For today, though, I think we should set the politics aside because what this day represents goes beyond politics.
We can’t beat around the bush.
We can’t ignore the facts of history.
For nearly a century after the United States gained its independence from Great Britain, slavery as an institution was both practiced and protected. In a country that espoused life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that is not a trivial oversight.
Slavery, no matter how common it has been throughout human history, is a barbaric practice. It was barbaric in the 1800s and it’s barbaric today. Sadly, the forces of greed, racism, bigotry, outdated traditions, and cruelty keep that practice alive and well. Sometimes it’s sanctioned. Sometimes it’s illegal. Whatever form it takes, though, it’s still unjust.
There’s just no way to properly articulate an atrocity that was allowed to legally fester and propagate for decades in the Americas. The fact it took a bloody civil war to finally end should make clear just how potent those ugly forces can be.
In the end, though, we were able to end the Civil War on the right side of the issue. We, as a nation, were able to accept and declare that slavery was wrong and could no longer be tolerated. It isn’t just barbaric. It’s antithetical to the ideals behind the United States of America.
Yes, we don’t always measure up to those ideals.
Yes, we still haven’t fully mended the wounds left by centuries of the slave trade.
That’s exactly why we need a holiday like Juneteenth. It doesn’t just celebrate how we were able to take this critical step in righting an egregious wrong. It reminds us that we’re still striving towards those ideals. We’re still trying to be the kind of nation that breaks the shackles of bondage rather than tighten them.
Sometimes, we make mistakes.
Sometimes, we encounter setbacks.
Sometimes, we’ll even outright fail in our efforts to pursue those ideals.
Even so, we can never lose sight of them. We should never stop striving for them. That’s what it means to learn, grow, and evolve as a nation. I believe we can continue to do better and Juneteenth is a way of reminding ourselves that we can be better.
So, in that spirit and with those ideals in mind, I wish everyone a safe and happy Juneteenth.