Leave it to the politicians, Republican and Democrat, to dangle the prospect of Juneteenth as a federal holiday in lieu of rolling up one’s sleeves and crafting, negotiating and passing long overdue reforms addressing police brutality and racial injustice in America. Add the reality of pressing another costly federal holiday that most work-a-day Americans won’t get to observe and the absurdity is complete once you also figure in the seemingly indiscriminate defacing and toppling of monuments honoring Founding Fathers, abolitionists and other non-Confederate figures.
This newspaper has long celebrated the significance of Juneteenth, marking the occasion when word of President Lincoln’s 1863 emancipation of slaves in the South at long last reached Texas, precipitating ratification of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments and ushering in Lincoln’s “new birth of freedom” edging us closer and closer to the vision articulated in the Declaration of Independence (and, yes, we’re aware the 13th was on its way to ratification when Union Army Gen. Gordon Granger announced a federal order in Galveston in June 1865 proclaiming all slaves in Texas were free).
Republican Sen. John Cornyn, one of our favorites and co-author of legislation making Juneteenth a national holiday, argues his case forcefully: “Juneteenth is a time-honored tradition in Texas celebrating the news that all slaves were freed. It’s an annual reminder of how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go to achieve the order of equality mentioned in General Granger’s General Order No. 3 in 1865. It’s past time we honor Juneteenth as a federal holiday so Americans across the nation can celebrate and recognize America’s long-fought path towards equality.”
Terrific sentiment, but given the tragic impetus for recent outrage, we’re clearly getting the cart before the horse. Yes, some might revel in another federal holiday, but this newspaper believes such honors and tributes — especially when so visibly under attack in the form of statuary nationwide — should wait till our generation of lawmakers and policymakers can demonstrate, even during a red-hot election year, that real reforms rate priority. We appreciate that House and Senate legislation regarding the police brutality so vigorously targeted by protesters have sharp differences, but surely adults can consider compromises such as that recently advocated by Republican Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana revising qualified immunity for police departments.
Little would delight us more than marking Juneteenth as a federal holiday. But while unrest characterizes some of our streets, while dysfunction rules our federal government, it’s pretty hypocritical to start peddling more holidays. The fact Italian Americans express resentment about scuttling Columbus Day in exchange for Juneteenth doesn’t help. Till we see solid evidence of genuine reform from Congress and the president, let’s put aside the crowd-pleasing holiday-forging antics, focus on achievements that require both courage and consensus and move our nation toward equal justice. It would be terrific if our federal lawmakers could help out.
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