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Our new federal holiday

Happy Juneteenth Day!

Though pursued for years, its recognition as a federal holiday seemed to come out of nowhere. Procedural rules in the Senate can, in certain circumstances, allow a single senator to block a proposal. In the case of designating June 19 as Juneteenth Independence Day, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., had done just that.

Last Tuesday, Johnson relented and ended his opposition. Hours later, Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic majority leader from New York, successfully received Senate approval through unanimous consent, meaning no debate and no roll-call vote.

On Wednesday, the House approved the holiday 415-14, with those in opposition all Republicans.

The speed of its sudden approval starkly contrasts with the delayed freedom it commemorates.

This was a nation founded on a declaration presented by a “free people” and laying the claim that all men were created equal and were entitled to God-given rights, but not Black people. In 1788, a Constitution was ratified to put these ideals into practice, but in America’s original sin, that same document perpetuated the enslavement of Blacks, with all its cruelties.

Even after President Abraham Lincoln, on Jan. 1, 1863, issued the “emancipation proclamation” that “all persons held as slaves…shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free,” enslaved Blacks remained unaware and in bondage as the Civil War raged and the South fought to secede and remain slave states.

On June 19, 1865, with the South’s resistance crumbling, Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger in Galveston, Texas, acting in accordance with Lincoln’s proclamation, declared “all slaves are free.”

June 19 commemorates that long, long waiting and joyous revelation.

While we welcome the federal holiday, we also note with pride it has been celebrated in these parts for some time. The Norwich NAACP became the first Connecticut branch to celebrate Juneteenth Day in 1989 and the city has been celebrating it every year since.

Last weekend New London observed its 7th annual Juneteenth Celebration.

Many will welcome another day off without giving it much thought. There will be car and mattress sales. That’s America. But some will also pause to consider how long a people waited, how far they’ve had to come, and how far we all still have to go. And that’s a good thing.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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