Happy Juneteenth!

Today is Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the end of slavery and Black independence in the US. If you aren't familiar with the history of Juneteeth, this is an excellent primer.

And check out this terrific 2015 piece on Juneteenth at Slate by Jamelle Bouie: The Black American Holiday Everyone Should Celebrate But Doesn't.
For now, it's a niche holiday, celebrated by black Americans and a handful of others who know and understand the occasion. But it deserves wider reach. Indeed, I think we should add it to the calendar of official federal holidays.

Insofar that modern Americans celebrate the past, it's to honor the sacrifices of the Greatest Generation or to celebrate the vision of the Founders. Both periods are worthy of the attention. But I think we owe more to emancipation and the Civil War. If we inaugurated freedom with our nation's founding and defended it with World War II, we actualized it with the Civil War. Indeed, our struggle against slave power marks the real beginning of our commitment to liberty and equality, in word, if not always in deed.

Put another way, Juneteenth isn't just a celebration of emancipation, it's a celebration of that commitment. And, far more than our Independence Day, it belongs to all Americans.
I encourage you to read the whole thing.

There are tons of Juneteenth events all over the country — from parades to cookouts to poetry slams. And there are plenty of other ways to mark the day, if you can't attend a Juneteenth event: You could make a donation to the NMAAHC, or request that your library order children's books on Juneteenth (if they don't already have them), or talk to your local Parks Department about organizing a Juneteeth event next year, if they're not holding any this year.

This past weekend, Iain and I went on a local Juneteenth walking tour organized by the local chapter of the NAACP and a local theater company.

One of the moments, among many, that stood out to me was this passage from the Douglas monologue:
I remember that a few years ago, when a Hungarian refugee — not an American citizen; he had only declared his intention to become one — was arrested in the harbor of Smyrna, for an offense against the Austrian government, Captain Ingraham, of the American warship St. Louis, demanded, in the name of the federal government, his instant release, and under the cover of her guns, the shackles of Austrian bondage melted from his limbs, and Martin Kozta walked the deck of that vessel a free man, as proud of his adopted country as we were of the gallant deed.

That poor Hungarian, in the hour of his misfortune, could look at the American flag as it gleamed in the sunlight of the Austrian sky, and as he looked at its stars, that symbolized a constellation of republican states, he could feel all the poetic inspiration of Halleck when he sang,

Flag of the seas! on Ocean's wave Thy stars shall glitter o'er the brave! When death, careering on the gale, Sweeps darkly 'round the bellied sail, And frighted waves rush wildly back Before the broadside's reeling rack, The dying wanderer of the sea, Shall look at once to heaven and thee, And smile to see thy splendors fly, In triumph o'er his closing eye.

But no colored man can feel any of this inspiration. We are denied all participation in the government; we remember that the flag only covers us as slaves, and that our liberties are only respected and our rights only secured to us, when, escaping from the beak of the American eagle, we can nestle in the shaggy mane of the British lion; and feeling this, we can feel no inspiration when we look at the American flag.
That speech was delivered July 4, 1860. One hundred and fifty-eight years ago. And it sounds not at all dissimilar from how a Black professional athlete kneeling during the anthem might describe his protest today.

We were challenged, at the beginning of the walk, to consider as we listened to each monologue, whether this nation was truly delivering on the promise of emancipation. Of course we know the answer. What follows, then, is the urgent obligation to agitate until that promise is fulfilled.

As always, please feel welcome and encouraged to leave additional suggestions for how to celebrate or further recommending reading in comments.

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