It is time to make Juneteenth a national legal holiday to celebrate the abolition of slavery in the United States. June 19, 1865 was the day General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, and announced that enslaved people were now free. He read General Order #3 which states “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves…”
It’s a Washington holiday already
Washington State has recognized Juneteenth as a day of remembrance since 2007. Last year a bill was introduced to make it a legal holiday in Washington, with the same level of observance as Presidents Day, Memorial Day and Independence Day. It didn’t make it to a vote, but it can’t end there.
The fight to end slavery and the fight for independence
The Civil War victory over slavery and for freedom and liberty is as fundamental to American identity and values as the struggle for American independence. A Juneteenth legal holiday would recognize that all those who fought to end slavery – soldiers, abolitionists, underground railroad conductors, the slaves who joined the Union army and those who led insurrections to free themselves. Theirs was a cause in common with the freedom fighters of the American revolutionary war.
We as Americans need finally to say out loud that the Civil War is over. We need to acknowledge the bravery, sacrifice and dedication of those freedom fighters who brought us, through the abolition of slavery, one step closer to becoming a free people, with liberty and justice for all.
Fulfillment of the American promise
The current uprising led by Black Lives Matter is another step on the road to freedom and justice too long denied for African American people. Their movement is revealing the extent to which police harassment, violence and imprisonment are integral to the system of oppression and exploitation designed to prevent the fulfillment of the American promise. It is also bringing into sharp relief the need to seek and accept leadership from the African American community and this movement. Because they know what it means to be deprived of their individual liberty, and they know how to conduct this struggle.
We could not have become the beacon of freedom and democracy we have been in the world without the victory over slavery represented by Juneteenth. A legal holiday would be a powerful declaration of this fact. Slavery is a stain on our history; this is our opportunity to turn an anniversary of its end into a celebration across the land.
Ann Vandeman is an Olympia-grown farmer, accountant, disability rights advocate and impassioned advocate for equal rights for all.