Juneteenth recognizes America’s “original sin,” says lawmaker pushing to make it a national holiday

"It's not just a black holiday. It really is a celebration of freedom"

For the last three years, Chantea and Michael McIntyre have celebrated Juneteenth, or June 19, with their four kids in their mostly white California neighbourhood. On June 19, 1865, the last group of enslaved people in America were freed, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

“It’s not just a black holiday. It really is a celebration of freedom, and that’s what America’s about, and so if you celebrate the 4th of July, you absolutely should celebrate Juneteenth as well,” Chantea said.

The McIntyres invite their neighbours, not only to celebrate but to use it as a teaching moment.

“We reached out to the parents, let them know what we wanted to celebrate. All of the parents were okay with that, and they sent the kids down here. A couple of the parents came as well,” Michael said.

“I got text messages from the parents that said, ‘Thanks for teaching my kid about that cool holiday’ and ‘They can’t stop talking about Juneteenth,'” Chantea said.

On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger finally arrived in Galveston, Texas to announce the emancipation of slaves. Texas had kept approximately 250,000 black people enslaved for two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation became law in 1863.

The man who signed that proclamation, President Abraham Lincoln, had been assassinated two months before Granger arrived.

“Can you imagine?” Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee said. “So what Juneteenth is, June 19, is the acknowledgement and, yes, commemoration that there were slaves that lasted two more years. And for them, it was a lifetime.”

Lee has been pushing to make Juneteenth a national holiday for two decades.

“The potential of having this national holiday opens a whole world of discussion for America, a whole reckoning with racism and the systemic racism that permeates the nation,” she said.

There is support for the resolution in Congress, Lee said.

“We are just very pleased at the number of co-sponsors and members who are interested in being supportive, and the resolution that we already introduced, we have 204 co-sponsors,” she said. “It’s delayed freedom, but it is the only recognition of the original sin of this nation. … So Juneteenth is an ability to tell the story of slavery.”

African Americans haven’t waited for national recognition to celebrate Juneteenth. Since 1866, parades and barbeques have been a staple of black communities from Houston and San Antonio to Chicago and Little Rock.

“They have some really big Juneteenth celebrations, and I would love to go out to one of those ’cause, I mean, there’s thousands of people out there,” Michael said.

Back in California, the McIntyres feel their small celebration is one way to bridge the racial divide during this tense moment in our history.

“My husband and I, we took our children to a peaceful protest, and I found myself walking with a fist in the air,” Chantea said. “And there was a movement that, when I looked around, it wasn’t just black people holding their hands up. And so that’s why I feel like there is some momentum around Juneteenth.”

This year, several big corporations, including Nike, Target, Twitter and Google, made June 19 a paid company holiday.

banner image via CBS News