In this nation, we celebrate many national holidays. Some are celebrated around the world, such as Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Others are uniquely American, recognizing the path this nation has taken to overcome obstacles. On the Fourth of July, we celebrate the birth of a nation with celebratory fireworks. However, we also recall images of soldiers freezing at Valley Forge. Many succumbed to hypothermia or dysentery. It was six and a half long years from the battle of Lexington and Concord to the final battle at Yorktown in 1781. Many died.
On Memorial Day, we remember those who died in battle to preserve our freedom. There are many claims to the origin of Memorial Day, but I choose to look to the call for Decoration Day by the leader of the Grand Army of the Republic in 1868 to adorn soldier’s graves with flowers. Truth be told, this was already a widespread custom in many southern states. Again, the nation paid a dear price in the Civil War and many conflicts since.
We also celebrate birthdays of great men who presided over these events: Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. These were certainly important and defining moments in the history of this country. We also celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. and recognize his sacrifice and the work he led on civil rights. Surely, this is a defining moment for our current generations and those to come. It’s an opportunity to recognize that we, as a nation, must continue to do the work so necessary to deliver on the original promise that all men are created equal. So, why not celebrate throwing off the yoke of slavery?
Slavery was a stain on this otherwise “perfect union.” To address this, we engaged in a Civil War that tore us apart, but we survived to build a better union. Reconstruction was designed to make good on that original promise, but we lost our way in fulfilling that promise. Despite attempts to establish wealth in the Black community, we created roadblocks to make that path more difficult. We actively undermined those attempts with violent action such as the 1921 Greenwood Massacre in Tulsa. Segregation was a further blot on our progress.
However, I believe that this winding path has been mono-directional toward equality. Yes, it can be frustrating and there’s more work to do, but let’s be bold in undertaking that work. Like other national holidays, let us recognize the cost of slavery and honor those who sacrificed so much. Let us acknowledge that slavery was a tragedy, whose effects we’re striving diligently to eradicate. Led by works such as the mural in downtown Galveston, “Absolute Equality,” let the images of our progress be as strong as those from Gettysburg, Iwo Jima or Yorktown. So too, let us understand that we’re a better nation having overcome slavery and celebrate that we’re a nation that works every day toward absolute freedom, liberty and equality.
Let us make Juneteenth that day across this nation.