Leaders of the campaign to establish Juneteenth as a National Holiday Observance Day returned to the nation's capitol the week of June 19th for the annual Washington Juneteenth Holiday Observance. They called for the U.S. Congress to pass legislation that would establish Juneteenth as an observance day like Flag Day or Patriot Day. Leaders of the Juneteenth campaign also wanted the state legislature to establish a commission that would be responsible for establishing an education curriculum for public school students about Juneteenth, and establish markers and monuments to increase tourism and educate the public.
On Sunday (Juneteenth), June 19th, 2011 President Obama issued a written statement that Juneteenth was more than a holiday for African-Americans. "Our nation is stronger because of the generations of struggles for equal rights and social justice, and our culture is richer because of the contributions of African Americans throughout our history," said Obama. "This is why Juneteenth, while rooted in the history of a people, can be celebrated by all Americans."
Rev. Ronald V. Myers, Sr., M.D., founder and chairman of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJOF) and the National Juneteenth Christian Leadership Council (NJCLC) had invited Speaker of the House John Boehner to discuss the three-fifths clause during the 2011 Washington Juneteenth National Holiday Observance in the U.S. Capitol. “The omission of the reading of the three-fifths clause during the historic reading of the U.S. Constitution by congress left open the question of the importance of slavery and the significance Americans of African descent made to the founding of America,” says Dr. Myers.
Rev. Meyers started the Juneteenth organizational campaign in 2000 when only three states had passed proclamations recognizing Juneteenth. Meyers then traveled to Washington D.C. and began to campaign for congress to establish Juneteenth Independence Day as a national day of observance and a state holiday observance in all 50 states. Today, 39 states recognize Juneteenth. “Juneteenth is a grassroots movement, and as far as the movement goes, recognizing it as a holiday observance day is enough for us. But, if the state wants to recognize Juneteenth as a paid state holiday, we aren't going to get in the way," Myers said. Even though Congress acknowledges the holiday, Meyers is issuing a petition asking congress to establish a federal holiday, which he will give to President Barack Obama.
"The official recognition of Juneteenth Independence Day and the end of slavery by state governments and congress are very significant steps in bringing healing to America from the legacy of enslavement," states Rev. Dr. Myers, "As the descendents of Americans of African descent, our ancestors were brought to America in chains. This should never be forgotten."The annual observance of Juneteenth provides America with the greatest opportunity to bring about a constructive resolution to the history of the brutal enslavement of Americans of African descent and the racial conflicts that plague the nation." Dr. Myers has also encouraged state and national leaders to promote reconciliation in observation of Juneteenth.
Juneteenth or the "19th of June" recognizes June 19, 1865, in Galveston, TX, when Union General Gordon Granger announced freedom for all slaves in the Southwest. This was the last major vestige of slavery in the United States following the end of the Civil War. This occurred more than two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln. Upon the reading of General Order #3 by General Granger, the former slaves celebrated jubilantly, establishing America's second Independence Day Celebration and the oldest African American holiday observance.
Many congressmen have been involved in the efforts of Juneteenth. Congressman Danny K. Davis (D-IL) has continued to serve as Chairman of the National Juneteenth Congressional Committee. Former Congressman Tony Hall of (D-OH) worked closely with Dr. Myers on the second historic introduction of the Congressional Apology for Slavery Legislation in 2000. Several states have passed apology for slavery legislation, and the U.S. House of Representatives’ Apology for Slavery and Jim Crow, sponsored by Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN), was passed in 2008. Similar legislation was passed in the U.S. Senate sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) in 2009. However, the U.S. House of Representatives has not passed a concurring, joint congressional resolution.
The work of former Congressman J.C. Watts, Jr. (R-OK) and former Senate Majority leader Trent Lott (R-MS) on behalf of Juneteenth Indepedence Day resulted in the placement of an important historic marker at the U.S. Capitol. In 2010, the U.S. Congress honored the slaves who built the capitol with the placement of a historic plaque honoring Philip Reed, an enslaved Black man with a critical role in erecting the Statue of Freedom that crowns the capitol’s dome. Reed was the only one who could figure out, when the statue arrived in Washington from Italy, how to disassemble its plaster mold and cast it in bronze.
"The U.S. Capitol and the White House were built through the uncompensated labor of the ancestors of Americans of African descent during the tyranny of slavery," states Dr. Myers. "We will honor their sacrifice and contributions in building key institutions in America during the observance of Juneteenth in the nation's capitol." Rev. Ronald Myers has encouraged state and national leaders to promote reconciliation in observation of Juneteenth.
Mississippi Senator Willie Simmons, (D-OH), has sponsored several bills over the years that would officially recognize Juneteenth as a legal state holiday, but the bills did not survive. Simmons said that making Juneteenth an official holiday is a challenge that we should not give up on. "The more individuals that get involved and the more citizens that become educated, I think the better that chances are that we can do something like that,” said Simmons.
According to the petition of this campaign, a presidential proclamation is all that is required for Juneteenth Independence Day to be recognized as a national holiday in America without the burden on taxpayers as a federal holiday.