President Joe Biden signed Juneteenth into law as a federal holiday on Thursday. Biden said that Americans “must” and “ought to” observe it — though he spent half a century in public office before doing anything about it.
Sine June 19 happens to fall on Saturday this year, the federal government will observe Juneteenth on Friday, June 18, meaning that Biden shut down the entire U.S. government on short notice. (Remember that, the next time Democrats complain about a budget impasse.)
Juneteenth, also called “Freedom Day” or “Emancipation Day,” celebrates the day in 1865 on which Union soldiers informed black Americans in Galveston, Texas, that they had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation nearly two-and-a-half years before.
It is, in a sense, the celebration of a Republican victory over Democratic racists.
The holiday, carried nationwide through migration, has since also become an expression of African American heritage and pride.
Why was Juneteenth never a federal holiday before?
America already has a holiday celebrating the end of the Civil War: it is Memorial Day, originally known as Decoration Day.
Like Juneteenth, Memorial Day began as an informal holiday; freed slaves may have been among the first to celebrate it. And like Juneteenth, it took more than a century to become a federal holiday. But unlike Juneteenth, Memorial Day is not specific to one group of people, or to one side in the war.
Reconciliation was a dominant theme as the Civil War drew to a close. “With malice toward none, with charity for all,” Lincoln declared in his Second Inaugural Address, Americans should strive “to bind up the nation’s wounds.”
Though Northern cities built monuments to Union victory, the country abandoned ambitious policies to help freed slaves, partly to appease Southern resentment. Many U.S. Army bases were named for Confederate heroes as gestures of “healing.”
Juneteenth persisted as a folk celebration, or a local holiday, offering a counterpoint to the national emphasis on unity, and reminding black Americans, at least, that the war achieved a specific purpose that required the victory of one side over the other.
But it is not a divisive holiday. It celebrates the assimilation of black Americans into full American citizenship, whose true potential would only be realized a century later — again, over the opposition of racist Democrats.
The Black Lives Matter movement helped turn Juneteenth into a cause célèbre for the left. But few Republicans opposed it; many, in fact, had participated in Juneteenth celebrations, in various parts of the country.
That irritates Taryn Finley at the left-wing HuffPost, who accuses Republicans of “hypocrisy” for embracing Juneteenth while leading opposition to the use of Critical Race Theory to indoctrinate children to believe that America is guilty of “institutionalized racism.”
In fact, there is no contradiction.
Juneteenth is about freedom from physical slavery; Critical Race Theory imposes a new, mental slavery on Americans, who are being forced to see themselves and their country through a crude racial lens. It makes sense that Republicans should embrace the former and reject the latter.
Critical Race Theory teaches that America is guilty of “systemic racism”; Juneteenth asserts that America stands for freedom, when it is true to its core principles.
Some conservatives may be tempted to reject Juneteenth as a federal holiday because its adoption is partly a concession to the “woke” political atmosphere, or because there are already too many public holidays.
Yet Juneteenth presents the opportunity to tell the true history of this nation; to honor black patriots and conservatives; and to uphold the vision of abolitionists like Frederick Douglass, who described America’s core values not as “racist,” but as “saving principles.”
Update: I am reminded by a colleague that President Donald Trump specifically called for Juneteenth to become a federal holiday, in his “Platinum Plan” for black Americans, which he launched last year during his re-election campaign.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). His new novel, Joubert Park, tells the story of a Jewish family in South Africa at the dawn of the apartheid era. His recent book, RED NOVEMBER, recounts the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.