‘Juneteenth’ should be a federal holiday (add two more holidays)

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Most American students have been taught in their K-12 American history classes that the Civil War ended on April 9, 1865, when Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia to the Union’s General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. But it would be more than 16 months before President Andrew Johnson would declare a formal end to the conflict in August 1866. The Civil War Actually Ended 16 Months After Lee Surrendered largely because of Texas:

Near Brownsville, Texas on May 12, a force of 350 Confederates under Col. John “Rip” Ford defeated 800 Union troops led by Col. Theodore H. Barrett in the Battle of Palmito Ranch, the last land battle of the Civil War. “It’s mainly Texans versus Texans,” says Charles D. Grear, professor of history at Central Texas College and author of Why Texans Fought in the Civil War. “It wasn’t really that big of a fight, but it’s still the last significant conflict of the Civil War.”

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On April 2, 1866, President Andrew Johnson issued a proclamation stating that the insurrection was over in all of the former Confederate states but one: Texas, which had not yet succeeded in establishing a new state government.

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On August 20, 1866, in acknowledgement of Texas’ new state government, Johnson was able to finally proclaim that “said insurrection is at an end and that peace, order, tranquility, and civil authority now exist in and throughout the whole United States of America.” His proclamation may have meant that the Civil War, by any definition, was finally over—but the arduous process of Reconstruction was only beginning.

Most American students in their K-12 American history classes have also not been taught about “Juneteenth” in Texas — or the white supremacist terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan during Reconstruction (and its resurgence in the 1920s and 1950s-60s), or the mass lynching of Blacks in America, See The Legacy Museum And National Memorial for Peace And Justice (the Memorial may need to engrave some more names: four Black men have been found hanging dead from trees in the days following George Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020, that were initially ruled suicides) — for that matter. From Juneteenth to the Tulsa massacre: What isn’t taught in classrooms has a profound impact.

“Juneteenth” commemorates when the last enslaved African Americans in Texas learned they were free on June 19, 1865, more than two years after the effective date of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Juneteenth celebrates ‘a moment of indescribable joy’: Slavery’s end in Texas (excerpts revised):

When Union troops arrived in Galveston on June 19, 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger delivered General Order No. 3, which said: “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.”

The newly freed slaves erupted in “a moment of indescribable joy.”

Note: Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was very limited, it was a strategic move designed to win the war, but it did not end slavery in the United States. The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution formally abolished slavery in the United States, declaring: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Congress passed the 13th Amendment on Jan. 31, 1865. It was ratified on Dec. 6, 1865.

The next year, former slaves started celebrating Juneteenth in Galveston, and it eventually would reach other states.

Even after freedom came in Texas, black people who stayed there lived under oppressive racial terrorism.

Between 1865 and 1930, more than 450 lynchings were recorded in Texas, according to the book “In the Cult of Glory,” by D.J. Swanson. The book reveals that Texas Rangers often stood aside as the lynchings were carried out.

That brutal history is part of what makes Juneteenth a unique holiday. “The celebration of Juneteenth can be seen as active resistance,” said C.R. Gibbs, a historian and author.

Juneteenth celebrations eventually stretched beyond Texas, which was the first state to make it a holiday in 1980. Most states and the District of Columbia recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday or day of recognition, like Flag Day.

There is no national holiday marking the end of America’s bloodiest war, the American Civil War. (Decoration Day to honor Civil War dead has been subsumed by Memorial Day, honoring all American military dead).

This is perhaps because the war never really ended, it was followed by a century of American Apartheid — state sanctioned “Jim Crow” racial segregation and black codes. There was, and still is, The Cult of the Lost Cause, historical revisionist propaganda that the Civil War was more about “states’ rights” than preserving slavery. Neo-Confederate deadenders have never given up this “lost cause” propaganda, just refer to Donald Trump supporters.

“Juneteenth” would appear to be an appropriate national holiday to mark the official end of the American Civil War and the end of slavery, President Andrew Johnson’s proclamation on August 20, 1866 notwithstanding.

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American musician Usher in an op-ed at the Washington Post writes, Why it’s so important that Juneteenth become a national holiday (excerpt):

I am humbled by the platform that has been given to me because of my musical talents, but I know I must do more with it. As an artist, it is my duty to reflect the trying times in which we live. My heart is shattered by the ongoing injustices in this country, incited by its long history of racism that has led to deadly outcomes for too many of our people. This country must change.

And it must change quickly.

Recognizing Juneteenth as a national holiday would be a small gesture compared with the greater social needs of black people in America. But it can remind us of our journey toward freedom, and the work America still has to do.

We could observe it, as many black Americans already do, by celebrating both our first step toward freedom as black people in America and also the many contributions to this land: the construction of Black Wall Street; the invention of jazz, rock n’ roll, hip-hop and R&B; and all the entrepreneurship and business brilliance, extraordinary cuisine, sports excellence, political power and global cultural influence black Americans have given the world.

And rather than observing Juneteenth as we do other holidays, by taking it off, we can make it a day when black culture, black entrepreneurship and black business get our support. A national Juneteenth observance can affirm that Black Lives Matter!

I proudly join the incredible people and organizations who have been working on this for years, among them the inspiring Opal Lee, a 93-year-old from Fort Worth, Tex., who has campaigned for the recognition of Juneteenth at the state and local level. There has never been a more urgent time than now to get this done. On Thursday, Sens. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) announced that they are introducing legislation to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. Congress must pass this bill immediately.

As we celebrate today, let’s stay open to possibility. Let’s support black-owned businesses today and every day. Let’s uplift our resilient history. Let’s honor our people. Happy Juneteenth, America.

On the eve of Juneteenth, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Ordered the Removal of Four Confederate Portraits From the House:

The portraits are of Robert M.T. Hunter of Virginia, Howell Cobb of Georgia, James L. Orr of South Carolina and Charles F. Crisp of Georgia. Mr. Crisp served in the Confederate Army as a young man and entered politics in the 1870s; the others were in Congress before the Civil War, and then held high civilian office in the Confederacy.

As Cheryl L. Johnson, the House clerk, and six reporters looked on, workers for the architect of the Capitol mounted ladders and carefully removed the paintings, wheeling them off and leaving empty hooks and blank patches of wall where they had hung in gilded frames.

“As I have said before, the halls of Congress are the very heart of our democracy,” Ms. Pelosi wrote in a letter to Ms. Johnson requesting the removal of the portraits. “There is no room in the hallowed halls of Congress or in any place of honor for memorializing men who embody the violent bigotry and grotesque racism of the Confederacy.”

As speaker, Ms. Pelosi has unilateral power over portraits in the House, but her efforts to remove statues of 11 Confederate officials and soldiers — including Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens, the president and vice president of the Confederate States of America — from the Capitol have been met with resistance. Current federal law gives states the power to remove a statue, as they are selected and donated by states for display in the Capitol, and top Republicans have indicated they believe states should maintain that responsibility.

Across the Capitol, however, Senate Republicans Block Bill To Remove Confederate Statues:

Senate Republicans blocked a bill from Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) that would have removed all Confederate statues and monuments from the U.S. Capitol.

Sen. Booker said, “We cannot separate these things from one another — the glorification of traitors who fought to uphold slavery, the disenfranchisement of Black Americans, and the horrific violence and systemic use of lynching as a tool of racial terror – because they are not separate from one another, they are connected.”

Booker added, “Individuals who committed treason against the United States of America and led our nation into its most painful and bloody war to preserve the institution of slavery are not patriots and should not be afforded such a rare honor in this sacred space. The continued presence of these statues in the halls of Congress is an affront not just to Black Americans, but to the very ideals we as a nation proclaim, that we are a place of liberty and justice for all.”

Booker asked for unanimous consent to pass the Confederate Monument Removal Act, he was blocked by Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri.

Republicans have chosen to glorify traitors to the United States of America and slavery at a time when millions of Americans are protesting and demanding action on systemic racism. When asked to choose between innocent African-Americans being murdered by the police, and the Confederacy, Senate Republicans — and particularly President Donald Trump — have chosen the Confederacy.

If there is one thing that the Senate should agree on 100-0, it is that slavery should not be glorified, but Trump is defending the Confederacy, so Senate Republicans are going to follow him off the cliff and kiss their majority goodbye in November.

While we are reconsidering American federal holidays, it is long past time to end Columbus Day and replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day for the Native American First People of America. Indigenous Peoples’ Day: Rethinking How We Celebrate American History:

In 1977 participants at the United Nations International Conference on Discrimination against Indigenous Populations in the Americas proposed that Indigenous Peoples’ Day replace Columbus Day. Indigenous Peoples’ Day recognizes that Native people are the first inhabitants of the Americas, including the lands that later became the United States of America. And it urges Americans to rethink history.

The movement to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day or Native American Day has gained momentum and spread to states, cities, and towns across the United States. The first state to rename Columbus Day was South Dakota in 1990. Hawai’i has also changed the name of its October 12 holiday to Discovers’ Day, in honor of the Polynesian navigators who peopled the islands. Berkeley, California, became the first city to make the change in 1992, when the city council renamed Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. In 2015 an estimated 6,000 Native people and their supporters gathered at Randall’s Island, New York, to recognize the survival of the Indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere. The demonstration’s success and the worldwide media attention it attracted planted the seeds for creating an Indigenous Peoples’ Day in New York City. [In 2019] the nation’s capital passed a resolution to change the holiday to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Universities and schools across the country are also observing the new commemoration.

[Numerous jurisdictions have already adopted Indigenous People’s Day. See article for the list.]

Even so, mythology about Columbus and the “discovery” of the Americas continues to be many American children’s first classroom lesson about encountering different cultures, ethnicities, and peoples. Teaching more accurate and complete narratives and differing perspectives is key to our society’s rethinking its history.

“It’s difficult to think of a more perverse hero than Christopher Columbus … from rape, to pillage, to flat-out murder, Columbus and his men were the first Europeans to commit horrendous atrocities against America’s indigenous people.” Top 5 atrocities committed by Christopher Columbus:

The following list describes just a sampling of reasons why Columbus was an awful person, with information drawn from Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States.”

Slavery and gold

Columbus had two goals in the Caribbean: to find gold and slaves. Columbus returned home to Spain and came back to the Caribbean with 17 ships and 1,200 men. His men traveled from island to island, taking Indians as captives. In 1495, in a large slave raid, Columbus and his men rounded up 1,500 Arawak men, women, and children, and put them in pens. They selected what they considered the best natives and loaded them onto ships back to Spain. Two hundred died en route. After the survivors were sold as slaves in Spain, Columbus later wrote: “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.”

Blood for gold

But slaves weren’t enough for Columbus or the Spanish monarchy. Columbus needed to bring back gold. Columbus and his crew believed there were gold fields in the province of Cicao on Haiti. He and his men ordered all natives 14 years or older to collect a certain amount of gold every three months. Natives who didn’t collect enough gold had their hands cut off. But it was an impossible tasks. There was virtually no gold around; only a little dust in streams. Many natives fled and were consequently hunted down and killed by the Spaniards.

Cruelty

If captivity and death weren’t enough, Columbus and his men had a particular reputation for cruelty. Bartolome de las Casas, a young priest who participated in the conquest of Cuba and wrote a history of the Indies, describes the treatment of the natives: “Endless testimonies … prove the mild and pacific temperament of the natives. … But our work was to exasperate, ravage, kill, mangle and destroy; small wonder, then, if they tried to kill one of us now and then…. The admiral, it is true, was blind as those who came after him, and he was so anxious to please the King that he committed irreparable crimes against the Indians …“ Las Casas describes how Spaniards rode on the backs of natives. How the Spaniards “thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades.” Las Casas adds “two of these so-called Christians met two Indian boys one day, each carrying a parrot; they took the parrots and for fun beheaded the boys.”

Mass genocide

Facing extermination, the Arawaks organized and attempted to fight back against the Spaniards. But they were little match against the armor, muskets, swords and horses of the Europeans. The Spaniards hung or burned Indians that they took captive. By this point, the Arawaks began committing mass suicides. They fed cassava poison to their infants to save them from the Spanish. In two years, half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead, either through murder, mutilation or suicide. By 1550, there were 500 Indians. By 1650, the Arawaks had been wiped out from the island.

Christopher Columbus is not someone Americans should be honoring with a federal holiday.

Besides, Columbus never found the North American mainland. Why don’t we honor the Norse sailors who reached America 500 years before Columbus, Leif Erikson and Bjarni Herjólfsson? “Unlike Columbus, the Norse didn’t annihilate the first Native Americans they encountered… and didn’t try and enslave them, as Columbus immediately did.” If we must teach white Eurocentric history in our schools, this is a more accurate history of the “discovery” of North America. Let’s give proper credit where credit is due.

Finally, why is Election Day not a federal holiday already? Give the people a paid holiday off to go and vote, since Republicans intend to force us all to stand in a long line for up to 12 hours to cast our vote. It’s the least Congress could do.  Just do it already! What more needs to be said?




1 COMMENT

  1. Why do we celebrate Columbus and not Amerigo? Leif beat him by 500 years…crickets. Why shouldn’t freeing of the slaves be celebrated? But get rid of that whole pandering month and national days, those are stupid.

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