The Push to Make Juneteenth a Holiday
The president’s rally brought renewed attention to the date of the celebrations. Weeks of civil unrest had already begun to fuel a new corporate, state and local government push to make Juneteenth a holiday. Juneteenth is not a federal holiday, but is widely celebrated by African Americans. It celebrates the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation to enslaved blacks in Texas. It was the last area of the Confederacy to receive the proclamation, on June 19, 1865, months after the end of the Civil War.
Oklahoma U.S. Senator James Lankford stirred controversy when he joined Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) in filing an amendment to legislation to replace Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a new federal holiday. “Juneteenth is a day in our history that redefined the meaning of freedom and equality in America,” said Sen. Lankford. “Throughout our history, we have strived to become a more perfect union and Juneteenth was a huge step in attaining that goal. We should celebrate these strides on the federal level while remaining cognizant of the impact the existing 10 federal holidays have on federal services and local businesses. We can reduce these impacts by replacing Columbus Day as a federal holiday with Juneteenth, America’s second independence day. I’m hopeful the Senate will support this amendment to celebrate this significant day in our Nation’s history.”
Senator Lankford later tried to walk back their proposed amendment after criticism from conservatives. “Contrary to the news stories and social media, I am not trying to end Columbus Day; in fact, I actually like Christopher Columbus,” said Sen. Lankford. He said it was all a misunderstanding. He said the purpose of the amendment was to start a conversation about the cost of adding another paid federal holiday. Each federal holiday costs American taxpayers around $600 million a year for paid time off and bonus holiday pay for federal employees. “Each federal holiday is also another time that Americans cannot get their mail, go to their bank, or get thousands of other federal services,” Lankford said.
On June 19, State Rep. Jason Lowe (D-Oklahoma City) announced that he will file legislation for the next legislative session to make June 19 a state holiday in honor of Juneteenth. “Juneteenth is a day of celebration in the Black community,” Lowe said. “It recognizes the official end to a period of American history that allowed the ownership of people. June 19, 1865, was not just the last day that Blacks experienced chattel slavery. It was the last day that Americans did too, and that is something we should all celebrate together.”
This movement, as represented by the statements of Senator Lankford and State Rep. Lowe, suffers from a fundamental problem – slavery did not end in the United State on June 19, 1865.
According to popular legend, on June 19, 1865, the Union Army led by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger informed the people of Galveston, Texas of the Emancipation Proclamation and this ended slavery in the United States. The flaw of this scenario is that the Emancipation Proclamation only affected states, and parts of states, that were under control of the Confederacy at the time that President Abraham Lincoln issued the proclamation. It specifically did not apply to the slave states that remained in the Union, or areas of the Confederacy occupied by Union forces . Lincoln didn’t want to alienate the residents of the slave states that were not in rebellion. This included Kentucky, Missouri, Delaware, and Maryland. If these states left the Union, thousands of more men would join the Confederacy. So, it only freed the slaves in places that were no longer under U.S. government authority.
So, just because the people in Galveston, Texas were the last to be informed of the Emancipation Proclamation, it did not end slavery in the United States. Slavery in the U.S. actually ended on December 18, 1865 when Secretary of State, William Seward, announced the adoption of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution following its ratification by the requisite number of States.