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Commentary: The passage of the Juneteenth law was striking

Commentary: The passage of the Juneteenth law was striking
June 23
12:04 2021

By Dr. James B. Ewers Jr.

I am surprised at how quickly Juneteenth became a national holiday. The day was recognized as a federal holiday on June 17, 2021, when President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law.

Am I the only African American to wonder how this piece of legislation became a law so fast?

I do not recall any publicity about the House and the Senate having a vote. In a humorous way, did they vote at the Wilson Pickett hour (the midnight hour)?

Where was the big debate about whether this holiday was needed? How did this get through the vile and crafty hands of Mitch McConnell? Where were Ted Cruz and Tim Scott, who said that America is not a racist country?

Now in 2021, the United States of America is commemorating Juneteenth. What compelled America to do so this year? I believe that question has multiple answers.

First, we know June 19th has been acknowledged in sections of this country since 1866. It is also known as Jubilee Day and Black Independence Day. That in and of itself was freedom denied and freedom delayed. As Black people, we have gone through the gauntlet of racism and overt hatred.

Most textbooks used by students show President Abraham Lincoln’s signing of The Emancipation Proclamation in 1862 as the official ending of slavery.

Wrong! There were Black people in parts of Texas still being slaves. Union soldiers were finally able to deliver the message of freedom on June 19, 1865.

Many cities and states across America have created activities centered around Juneteenth. My hometown of Winston-Salem.

A spokesperson for California Governor Gavin Newsome’s office said in a statement: “The Governor issues a proclamation each year to celebrate this important day. At the state level, establishing a holiday usually requires legislation and collective bargaining.”

Cities like Pittsburgh and Boston closed most of their offices. However, New York and Washington, D.C. still provided most of their city services.

Responses to this federal holiday have been measured and uneven. Did the nation see this coming? I do not think so. In my opinion, there were no contingency plans. It just happened and the people’s response was what do we do now? 

Next year will be a better year to lift up Juneteenth and give it the recognition it rightfully deserves. Yes, it will be a better year, but even so, it was a long time coming. Maybe that is how it is with us.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968. Reports show that his birthday was approved as a federal holiday in 1983. It was not until the year 2000 that all 50 states made it a state government holiday.

It is my thinking America keeps a pace that is unthinkable when it comes to the recognition of Black people and Black History. Our quest for historical recognition will always be on the back burner.

Great for the Juneteenth federal holiday; however, will greater be the John Lewis Voting Rights Act?

Are you listening, hard-hearted Republicans? Are you going to stand with fellow Democrats? Congressman Joe Manchin, are you going to stop being a closet Republican?

The country needs the John Lewis Voting Rights Act as there is a movement afoot to stop us from voting. However, we will not stop.

Will greater be the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021? This bill will hold the police more accountable for their actions. Both bills will strengthen the fabric of America. They are waiting on Senate approval.

The fear of equality scares some senators. Equal treatment under the law makes them pause and hesitate.

Have they forgotten “One nation under God?”

James B. Ewers Jr., Ed.D., is a former tennis champion at Atkins High School in Winston-Salem and played college tennis at Johnson C. Smith University, where he was all-conference for four years. He is a retired college administrator. He can be reached at overtimefergie.2020@nullyahoo.com.

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