On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate voted unanimously to make “Juneteenth National Independence Day” a federal holiday. Until recently, few Americans had even heard of “Juneteenth,” and for good reason: relative to other events in history, the date does not much matter.
On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves in rebel states through his Emancipation Proclamation. On December 18, 1865, Congress and the states outlawed slavery throughout the country with the ratification and proclamation of the Thirteenth Amendment. On June 19, 1865 — or “Juneteenth” — a less significant event occurred: General Gordon Granger entered Texas and announced that Lincoln had freed the slaves three years earlier.
At present our national calendar includes 10 federal holidays each year: New Year’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day, Columbus Day, and the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. The calendar excludes plenty of important events in American history, including the ratification of the Constitution, the election of 1800, Victory in Europe Day, and the Moon landing, just to name a few.
These federal holidays have always involved some expression of gratitude. We thank God on Thanksgiving, Christmas and even Independence Day, which, in the words of John Adams, “ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.” Washington’s Birthday, Columbus Day, and Martin Luther King Jr. Day were established to express our national appreciation for great men who helped to build our country. On Veterans Day, we give thanks to our servicemen; on Memorial Day, to those servicemen no longer with us; and on Labor Day, to the ordinary workers who do their jobs day in and day out to keep our country running. Even New Year’s Day involves “a cup o’ kindness yet for auld lang syne.”
But gratitude seems conspicuously absent from the recent recognition of “Juneteenth.” It commemorates no concrete act or particular man but rather an overdue, inconclusive episode on the never-ending march toward progress. If legislators merely wanted to mark the end of slavery, both the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment seem better candidates than a local tradition from Galveston, Texas. And both would occasion gratitude — for Lincoln, for the legislators, for the concrete acts that secured the freedom of the slaves.
But that sort of gratitude now offends the Left. Noah Berlatsky, an editor of The Atlantic, typified this attitude in 2014 when he took to the pages of his magazine to whine about “white savior” narratives in several films, including a biopic about Abraham Lincoln, the white savior who freed the slaves. This week, NPR television critic Eric Deggans went even further, criticizing Tom Hanks for having portrayed white men in any way “doing the right thing” in his historical films.
Assuming the House of Representatives and President pass the “Juneteenth” holiday into law, it will have the distinction of being the only federal holiday bereft of gratitude. “This national holiday will serve as a powerful reminder that we cannot run from our past,” explained Democrat representative Rashida Tlaib during debate over the bill. “It’s also a recognition that we have so much work to do to rid this country of systemic racism, discrimination, and hate,” added Democrat Brenda Lawrence. Barack Obama expressed the same sentiment last year, albeit in a somewhat softer tone. “Juneteenth has never been a celebration of victory,” Obama tweeted, “or an acceptance of the way things are. It’s a celebration of progress. It’s an affirmation that despite the most painful parts of our history, change is possible — and there is still so much work to do.”
The perpetual revolution to fundamentally transform our country never acknowledges victory. The revolutionaries contend that there must always be more work to be done to emancipate ourselves, not from the tangible chains of chattel slavery, but from the more oppressive bonds of tradition and society. These radicals endeavor, in the words of the New York Times’s anti-historical 1619 Project, “to reframe the country’s history” to better accord with the progressive vision, according to which our future happiness demands that despise and overcome our past.
The title of the bill to establish the new holiday refers, not to “Juneteenth,” but to “Juneteenth National Independence Day,” a reframing of our history and freedom. On our nation’s traditional Independence Day, we have given thanks for the victory that gave us our country, imperfect though she may be. Our new National Independence Day recognizes no such victory. It refuses to enjoy or even accept our nation as she is. There will always remain too much work to be done.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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