Today Pres. Joe Biden signed a bill making Juneteenth, June 19, an official federal holiday. The bill arose from the fact that although the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, it was not until Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger reached Galveston on June 19, 1865, that Texas slaves were finally freed. Blacks have celebrated the day every year since.
That much I’ve long understood. What puzzled me today was the title of the bill and the name it specifies for the new holiday: Juneteenth National Independence Day. What national independence? Whose? What does it have to do with Independence Day, the Fourth of July?
I finally found the explanation in an AP Explainer:
“In 1776 the country was freed from the British, but the people were not all free,” Dee Evans, national director of communications of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, said in 2019. “June 19, 1865, was actually when the people and the entire country was actually free.”
Although I understand the intent, I take issue with the language. The United States weren’t exactly “freed” by the British. We declared, fought for, and won our independence from Britain and we celebrate that on July 4, Independence Day. The Juneteenth celebration has always been about freedom, emancipation, or liberation from slavery — not independence from Britain. At least that’s been my understanding.
Anyway, the day certainly deserves this national recognition and celebration, apart from and not to be confused with the Fourth of July. I’m hopeful it will continue to be celebrated as simply Juneteenth, the historic national holiday with the unique name.