Congress Asked to Make Juneteenth a National Day of Observance
Yanne Givens | 6/26/2009, 12:39 p.m.
Jazz music played in the background as everyone from Capitol Hill staffers to high school students mingled at the Congressional Black Caucus€ Juneteenth Reception Wed., June 17 in the Rayburn Building on Capitol Hill.
On the trumpet was Rev. Ronald V. Myers, Sr., M.D., chair of the National Juneteenth Holiday Campaign. As chair, Myers is asking Congress to enact legislation that he hopes will make Juneteenth a national day of observance in America, similar to Flag Day or Patriot€s Day, by next year. Juneteenth is African Americans€ Independence Day, Myers said, because €the Fourth of July does not capture, for us, freedom.€
Juneteenth is a celebration of the end of slavery that occurs every year on June 19. It commemorates the day that Union soldiers went to Galveston, Texas, announced that the Civil War had ended, and read a general order which freed the 250,000 slaves living in the state. Although Abraham Lincoln€s Emancipation Proclamation went into effect two years prior, in January of 1863, many were still enslaved until June 19, 1865, a day of long-awaited liberation in America.
Helen Mitchell, who was in charge of the planning, development and implementation of the CBC event, believes Juneteenth is important because €it€s a part of our heritage.€
€Juneteenth speaks to the fact that there€s a continued fight,€ Mitchell said.
Mitchell said that although African Americans are physically free, the mental state of slavery has yet to be eradicated. Although Mitchell said African Americans today are allowing themselves to be enslaved to institutional barriers, she is confident that €through faith and hope, we can move beyond that.€
Gregory Hogan, who came from New Jersey to attend, wants to take that optimism back home and get young people involved in the movement. Hogan believes that young people should be the most concerned and proactive, but said they remain apathetic on weighty matters such as Juneteenth.
€I think people don€t care because they don€t know. They don€t know what they should care about,€ Hogan said.
Chelsea Jackson, a rising senior at Springbrook High School in Silver Spring, Md., volunteered at the CBC event, claiming that this is important to her because she needs to know her history.
Jackson, like Hogan, recommends that more young people get involved and volunteer at events like the reception in the future.
Some of the benefits of working this event are its location, Capitol Hill, and the connections students can make there, in addition to the fact that it is informational and a good experience, Jackson said.
The CBC Juneteenth reception followed a symposium, which highlighted the significance of Juneteenth and the efforts the CBC is making to address issues affecting the African American community. Members of the CBC, including its chair, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), discussed many topics, including healthcare, judicial and civil rights, and the partnerships the CBC is working to build with communities across the nation.
But the most important issue for Dr. Myers is continuing the quest for formal, national recognition of Juneteenth by the government.
€Unless we celebrate ourselves, we won€t be celebrated,€ Myers said.
Hogan and his family agree.
€Every year we have our own celebration at my house. Even though it€s not a national holiday yet, that€s what we€re striving for,€ he said.
At the reception, Hogan wore a t-shirt he received 15 years ago at the age of 11 when he attended a meeting on the steps of the City Capitol with his parents, the Presidents of the Northeastern Chapter of the Juneteenth Foundation. His shirt read: €Juneteenth- Freedom with the stroke of a pen, Written in a people€s blood.€