At a time when there is so much rewriting of American history, Juneteenth proves why history should be kept intact.
Officially declared a national holiday by Congress last year in the wake of George Floyd’s 2020 murder, the day marks the emancipation of black slaves by President Abraham Lincoln in January 1863. As we prepare to celebrate it for the first time as a nation on Monday, it feels as important as the Fourth of July.
Right now there is a movement among much of the progressive left to “cancel” our history. Public school murals depicting early-American history have been painted over for presenting “degrading images” of blacks and Native Americans. Over 1,000 public squares, streets and spaces associated with slavery, Confederacy or racism are under pressure to be renamed. Major league sports franchises with offensive names have been given entirely new identities. And school curricula from elementary to university levels are being rewritten to prioritize the experiences of marginalized communities, while downplaying narratives centered around whites and men. Without a doubt, we should discuss and debate our history. But erasing the past to undo the ills of the present is a slippery slope that ultimately benefits no one.
In the face of all this erasure, Juneteenth actually embraces our ugly past and gives all Americans a reason to be proud. The Emancipation Proclamation declared freedom for 3.5 million slaves living in the secessionist South if they could escape their slave masters and the Confederacy (which most could not). Finally, in December 1865, following the North’s Civil War triumph over the South, slavery was declared unconstitutional and permanently eradicated.
What’s more, Juneteenth celebrates America at a time when celebrating being American has become a progressive minefield. Thanksgiving has been recast as a day of Native American mourning. Columbus Day has been derided as an event honoring mass genocide, with statues of Christopher Columbus himself defaced and even beheaded. Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson — men who literally forged a nation — have been recast as little more than slave owners. Even slavery itself has been coopted and politicized by dubious scholarship to position it as the raison d’etre for America’s very establishment and existence. The American flag has also taken a beating, with some saying it has come to represent conservative politics more than our country as a whole.
While there is truth to some of these grievances, the left’s extreme positions leave no room for complexity, nuance and often historical fact. And this tide of anti-Americanism has been damaging to our nation: In 2001, 87% said they were very or extremely proud to be American; 69% say that now.
But Juneteenth, with its championing of American history rather than the simple cancellation of it, could help change this. It shows that, just as slavery is an indelible part of our nation’s past, so too is our commitment to reckoning with it. My children will grow up in a nation where Congress has codified the importance of African-American freedom.
Juneteenth is proof that America can make a right out of a historical wrong — even as there still remains work to do.
Much like our nation’s Independence Day, it signifies liberty and our ever continuing path toward creating “a more perfect Union,” just as the preamble to the US Constitution states. Nothing is more meaningful than that.