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Chester County Press

Editorial: The new holiday of our education

06/22/2021 07:59PM ● By Richard Gaw

The announcement that came last week making Juneteenth a national holiday was eerily similar to nearly every symbolic declaration of its kind in the 245-year history of the United States of America.

It came too late.

Just like the passage of the 19th amendment in 1920 giving women the right to vote.

Just like The Civil Rights Act of 1964 that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, and later sexual orientation and gender identity.

Just like the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 26, 2015 ruling that gave same-sex couples the right to marry; and just like every other legislation enacted that has endeavored to level the playing field of our country’s citizens or recognize achievements and moments when our nation rose to live out the highest meaning of its most declarative document.

And while Juneteenth has at last been added to our national calendar, the tardiness of its arrival is exacerbated by its still nebulous origin and even cloudier meaning in the lexicon of our history.

While it recognizes June 19, 1865 as the day when the last enslaved African Americans were granted freedom after Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas and announced that the Civil War was officially over, it is a holiday that has been celebrated mostly among African Americans at festivals, parades and at backyard feasts.

It is the one annual event in the year that illuminates – more than any other -- our nation’s division, our separateness, and the dark cloud of our nation’s past. To many Americans – White Americans – Juneteenth is the jubilant equal of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the imagined perception that just around the corner from the parade is the memory of the police killings of Ahmaud ArberyGeorge Floydand Breonna Taylor.

And yet, despite the opposition of 14 Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives – some hilariously said they feared the new would be confused with the Fourth of July holiday -- Senate Bill 475 was signed into law by President Joseph R. Biden and is now on our nation’s calendar.

While its designation as a federal holiday seems like an aftermath to its current imprint, Juneteenth has become – with a stroke of the President’s pen -- our country’s newest classroom, one that must turn to the chapter of one of our ugliest moments, dig deep into its narrative, and have the courage to keep turning the pages.

Its designation must be met with equal purpose, equally. The truest measure of its impact will be whether a singular day will become a continuing dialogue, a conversation to end the poison of ignorance and silence the lethal blows of racism and inequality.

It is the hope of this newspaper that Juneteenth not aspire merely to become one of America’s prettiest holidays but one of its most inclusive – an integrated, color-blind school of fluid motion and discourse that flings its doors open to everyone who is willing to learn.