Commentary: Juneteenth holiday would continue work remaining

Everett has proclaimed the holiday. A national holiday would spread its message of unity and equality.

By Cassie Franklin and Rick Larsen / For The Herald

Black Americans have celebrated Juneteenth for generations. But if you are not Black, chances are you did not learn about Juneteenth growing up.

It is long past time to make Juneteenth a national holiday. Designating June 19 a national holiday would clearly and powerfully proclaim the United States is finally ready to grapple with the legacy of slavery.

June 19, 1865 — or Juneteenth — marks the day when emancipation finally reached enslaved people in the deepest parts of the former Confederacy. Although President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, word traveled slowly, especially where it was not welcomed. More than two months after the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Court House, Union soldiers under the command of Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19 and issued General Order No. 3 declaring all enslaved people were free.

Liberation was not the end of oppression. The end of Reconstruction led to generations of disenfranchisement, segregation and violence against Black Americans. The legacy of this era lives on to this day.

An increasing number of Americans celebrate Juneteenth for the promise it holds and for the powerful message it symbolizes. From its beginning, Juneteenth offered hope that America was moving closer to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, including the idea all people are created equal and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

At this year’s Juneteenth rally in downtown Everett, we joined with other community leaders to celebrate in the spirit of joy and unity. Even as George Floyd’s senseless murder and the murder of others at the hands of police sparked national outrage and mass protests, Juneteenth remains a day of hope and celebration. State Rep. John Lovick suggested we should “celebrate with an epidemic and a quarantine — an epidemic of love, and a quarantine of hate and division.” Washingtonians of all backgrounds came together on Juneteenth to hear messages of healing and of the need for progress within ourselves and our communities.

Juneteenth is a day to celebrate the promise of freedom for Black Americans, and to focus on the work we still must do to realize that dream. We have made progress, but recent events have brought heightened urgency to do more, now, to address injustice, racism and violence in our country.

As a step toward that goal, the City of Everett proclaimed Juneteenth a citywide holiday, a time to renew our commitment to ensuring our community is a safe, welcoming and equitable city for all. We will also continue to advocate for Juneteenth to be officially designated a nationwide holiday. This would honor the history and experience of Black Americans and remind us of our ongoing commitment toward achieving justice and equality for all.

As civil rights heroine Fannie Lou Hamer proclaimed in 1971, “nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

Cassie Franklin is mayor of Everett. Rep. Rick Larsen represents the 2nd Congressional District. He is cosponsor of legislation that would designate Juneteenth, June 19, as a national holiday.

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