(Courtesy of Austin Library of Congress)

By Wayne Dawkins
Special to the AFRO

Actually, on June 17, I was skeptical when President Biden sat down and signed the paper that made Juneteenth a national holiday. As one colleague said, the act gave her whiplash. Where did this change come from? 

We’ve been consumed with George Floyd-era police reform and Rep. John Lewis-inspired voting rights reform and securing enough federal money to repair, roads, bridges and transit. Was federalizing Juneteenth a cynical ploy to tell Black people, look what we gave you. Now would you please shut up?

Well, there was some cynicism at play as another colleague and the Washington Post the next day contextualized. Like many bills, Juneteenth had been gestating in Congress for a long time. Texans, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, and Sen. John Cornyn, were the co-sponsors. 

Turns out a $600 million-plus federal holiday for two million government employees was not so controversial, except to holdout Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. Yes, that guy who still insists pro-Trump marauders did not attack the Capitol on Jan. 6. 

Johnson is up for re-election in 2022 and his polling numbers do not look good, reported the Post. So, Johnson ended his opposition.

Juneteenth became a national holiday so fast, federal workers, including the spouse in my house, received last Friday off once the ink was dry on the new law. 

Will the day off mean anything to Americans from sea-to-shining sea? “Critical race theory” is the hot button some Republicans are using to gin up anti-Black sentiment. The theory is real. Since the 1970s, many college students experience shocks when they learn in history classes that American racism is institutional and systemic. 

I trust many people reading what I write can love America yet vow to kill the remaining roots of racism.

Others cannot. Texas and its Republican governor recently balked at “critical race theory,” that the legacy of slavery remains unreconciled and is holding our great nation back despite extraordinary progress. 

The deniers rejected the “1619 Project” so violently in Texas, this month governor Greg Abbott odiously substituted the “1836 Project” to be taught in public schools. Anglo settlers rebelled against the Mexicans because they wanted to expand slavery, which the Mexicans had ended. And, Texans of Mexican descent will be expected to endure the long-discredited “Remember the Alamo” folklore.

If as a nation we refuse to reconcile the legacy of slavery, how will America mature and grow? A lesson in immaturity was the past Memorial Day when a White Lt. Colonel at an American Legion ceremony had his mic silenced when he began citing Blacks’ defining role in the holiday: Enslaved Blacks who were liberated by Union soldiers gave the dead proper burials in Charleston, S.C.. Decoration Day evolved into Memorial Day. 

Crude attempts to whitewash American history will backfire. Too much scholarly research is emerging that cannot be suppressed. 

When the federal Juneteenth holiday rolls around for its anniversary in 2022, will Americans be able to acknowledge what is being commemorated?

The writer is a professor of professional practice at Morgan State University School of Global Journalism and Communication.

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