On June 19, 1865, federal troops entered Galveston, Texas, to announce that the Civil War had ended and slaves had been freed. Until that moment, complete independence from chattel slavery in this country had not been accomplished.
In June of 1968, I graduated from high school without ever learning about this. I wonder how many other readers, regardless of graduation year, also completed high school unaware of something so significant in American history. And, by extension, if we were not taught about this, ponder what else about racial oppression in our past we were not taught.
Consider how deeply unprepared we are to form a more perfect union if we neither know nor appreciate the immensity of our historic obstacles to and advances in achieving liberty and justice for all. The singular spotlight that a single month on the calendar, February’s Black History Month, can provide is so inadequate to a robust education about our country that it fosters sound bites instead of insights.
We achieve high recognition of the “I have a dream,” rhetoric for the ages by Martin Luther King Jr., with hardly any recognition of “what happens to a dream deferred?” anguish poured out for us by Langston Hughes.
In June of 2021, Juneteenth became a federal holiday, as Congress has passed the necessary legislation for the president’s signature. I wonder how many Americans will reflect on the enormity of what it means to have separate dates for the celebration of independence in this land. While so many voices are condemning efforts by educators to remedy the gaps in what young Americans learn about America, it would be genuinely patriotic if they would, instead, welcome the opportunity and rise to the obligation to impart the truth. The truth is that freedom is a hard-won privilege and we have never managed to win it for everyone at once.
We push forward, but we also fail to finish. There is shame in our past, which places us squarely in the human race. But there is also goodness and glory in the fact that America promises freedom, stumbles toward that more perfect union, and her children deserve to know the truth. Reckoning with two days of independence, with all that conveys about who we are, brings us closer to the reconciliation that King’s famous dream defined.
Juneteenth blessings to all.