Juneteenth Supporters Distance Themselves From Federal Holiday Proposal

Black Activists Oppose Politicization of Emancipation Celebration

Washington, D.C. – Despite more than twenty years of acknowledging the importance of Juneteenth, members of the Project 21 black leadership network refrained from encouraging a rush into making the emancipation-themed celebration a formal national holiday.

Martin Baker

Martin Baker

“Juneteenth is already everything but a national holiday since 47 states, local governments and even private companies recognize it,” said Project 21 member Martin Baker. “Juneteenth was an acknowledgement of the Emancipation Proclamation, which history tells us only applied to the states in rebellion. If we truly want to celebrate an all-encompassing ‘freedom day,’ perhaps we should choose December 6 – the anniversary of when the 13th Amendment was ratified.”

Baker also questioned the sudden importance of making Juneteenth a national holiday after more than 150 years. “What is the sufficient significance to deem a day worthy to become a holiday by congressional fiat?” Baker asked.

Juneteenth commemorates the anniversary of the June 19, 1865 arrival of Union troops in Galveston, Texas. The soldiers brought with them news of the end of the Civil War two months earlier, and how President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation abolished slavery two-and-a-half years earlier. Galveston’s former slave population began celebrating its freedom annually on the anniversary of this day. “Juneteenth” grew to become a motivating and stabilizing commemoration for black Texans experiencing the uncertainties associated with their newfound freedom and a full integration into American society. The anniversary is now celebrated nationwide with picnics and public events.

Marie Fischer

Marie Fischer

“I have no problem with expanding the knowledge and awareness of Juneteenth on a national level. In fact, it is surprising the number of black Americans – let alone all Americans – who are not yet aware of it. But to make this a federal holiday is not something I feel is in the best interests of the country, especially now,” said Project 21 member Marie Fischer. “I constantly hear everyone taking about unity, but would a federal holiday end up being a unifier? Or would it give fuel to those who support critical race theory by pointing out a day that marks one group as an oppressor and another as the oppressed? Such a holiday could be easily hijacked by those who insist that blacks only advance when it benefits white elites. Nothing seems to get pushed these days unless it fits a specific narrative.”

In the wake of nationwide unrest after the 2020 death of George Floyd, legislation was introduced (and reintroduced this year) to turn the Juneteenth commemoration into “Juneteenth National Independence Day,” adding it to the list of federal holidays “[f]or the purpose of statutes relating to pay and leave of employees, with respect to a legal public holiday.” This would classify it in the same category as Presidents’ Day, Labor Day and Veterans Day.

While some lawmakers have raised concerns about the cost of a new federal holiday, Project 21 members are more concerned about whether the creation of a Juneteenth holiday at this time would be politicized. For example, Senator Ed Markey said when introducing the Juneteenth holiday legislation: “Today we commemorate. Tomorrow, we fight.”

Derryck Green

Derryck Green

“Far too many Americans, regardless of their ethnic background, are unfamiliar with Juneteenth. The blessing of liberty was irrevocably granted on June 19, 1865 to those who remained enslaved in Texas, not knowing they had been freed more than two years earlier. For them, this was their declaration of freedom,” said Project 21 member Derryck Green. “While I am agnostic on a national holiday, I don’t want the commemoration hijacked by racial activists who would use it as another tool to demonize white Americans under the pretense of racial justice. As we’ve seen since last summer, this has been destructive to the American experiment.

“Juneteenth should prompt us not just to take inventory of how far we’ve come, but also realize that – despite the racialized claims of ‘white supremacy’ or ‘systemic racism’ – blacks have the agency and ability to control our own lives,” continued Green. “This includes becoming full participants in society.”

Project 21 member Donna Jackson argued this week in a nationally-syndicated commentary that July 4 is a more unifying day to celebrate Americans’ shared freedom:

Donna Jackson

Donna Jackson

So the push now to make this celebration of emancipation a national holiday certainly didn’t come from me or anyone I know. It sure seems as though it’s part of a bigger agenda being imposed on the black community by those who never bothered to ask us. And while elevating Juneteenth to such prestige may seem relatively harmless, it comes with the baggage of radicals who are also promoting critical race theory, reparations and self-segregation…

So as far as Juneteenth goes, I am happy to have the 4th of July – Independence Day – instead. The Declaration of Independence and our Constitution are unrivaled among other nations. And I say that, knowing full well that blacks didn’t get their freedom until several generations after 1776.

Project 21 members have been commemorating Juneteenth for more than twenty years, using it as an opportunity to encourage other black Americans to celebrate their liberty and self-sufficiency in a nation that offers unlimited opportunities.

To schedule an interview with a member of Project 21 on this or other issues, contact Judy Kent at (703) 477-7476.

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