Happy Juneteenth, America!
To which a full 40% of Americans reply, “What is Juneteenth?”
Well, now it is a federal holiday, which means that if you need something from the post office you are out of luck. If you need something from your state division of motor vehicles, however, there’s a good chance it might still be open since many states have not followed suit in making it a holiday.
All very confusing.
Some people get the day off from work, which is always popular. Unless, of course, you are stuck at work watching all the happy people frolicking outside in the sunshine from your dreary office window. Then it is very sad.
Anyway, at a time when Americans seem more divided than we should be, Juneteenth is an awkward national touchstone.
Roughly 100% of Americans know what July 4, Thanksgiving and Christmas and Memorial Day are — and it’s not just because we all get those days off from work or school. Even more painful holidays that we don’t exactly “celebrate” — such as 9/11 — are familiar to everyone and observed by all.
Family feasts, fireworks, presents under the tree or solemn days of remembrance — all unify us and remind us how lucky we are to live in a great, free country.
But if fully 40% of Americans do not even know what Juneteenth is, then it is hardly a unifying holiday. Even if you are among the lucky federal bureaucrats who got the day off.
The latest Gallup polling shows that only 59% of Americans know “a lot” or “some” of what Juneteenth is. That’s up more than 20 points from last year when just 37% of Americans knew what Juneteenth is.
Yet the same poll showed that many Americans support teaching Juneteenth in school — even if they did not know what the holiday was about. Clearly, those people got the day off.
The point of the holiday is to memorialize June 19 as the day in 1865 when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, to free slaves — two months after the Confederacy had surrendered in the Civil War and fully two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had ended slavery in Confederate states.
Certainly, this is a really big deal. It is safe to say that the end of slavery — and the conclusion of our bloodiest war — is something all good Americans celebrate today.
Ending slavery and reunifying after that long, horrible war was one of America’s greatest trials and remains among the greatest achievements in American history. It should be a moment of enormous pride and historical celebration.
But, like everything in America, great ideas are often ruined by politicians in Washington.
President Biden made Juneteenth a federal holiday when he signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act last year, after running an entire presidential campaign on the bizarre notion that half of America is racist. Mr. Biden’s racially-charged, divisive and dishonest campaign came after years of Democrats in Washington doing all they could to sow racial discord in America — 150 years after the end of slavery and more than a decade after electing America’s first Black president.
Juneteenth will only succeed as a national holiday when it becomes a unifying celebration rather than a political weapon.
• Charles Hurt is the opinion editor at The Washington Times.