Here’s why Juneteenth is as American as July 4th

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Welcome to Juneteenth – a federal holiday that’s supposed to unite, but sadly, divides. On June 19th, 1865, union soldiers proclaimed the end of the Civil War and slavery in Galveston, Texas, an event that has come to symbolize the end of slavery nationwide.  

Yet today, some conservatives believe celebrating Juneteenth is somehow part of the “woke” takeover of society. I understand their concerns, yet this fear leads people to miss that Juneteenth reflects an enduring commitment to our founding principles and embodies our nation’s greatest attributes.  

I say this as a Black pastor who has been appointed to numerous positions by Republican presidents and governors over the past 30 years. I strongly supported the establishment of Juneteenth as a federal holiday in 2021.  

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Then, I was deeply concerned to see some members of Congress characterize it as a leftist plot, and to this day, state and local leaders accuse it of furthering a left-wing agenda. Such claims help explain why, according to Gallup, 30% of Americans still oppose turning Juneteenth into a federal holiday, with a further 25% on the fence. 

Capitol fireworks

Juneteenth is a uniquely American celebration and should be seen as an extension of the 4th of July. FILE: Fireworks explode over the National Mall in Washington, DC, to celebrate July 4th. (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP)

I understand why so many people have doubts about Juneteenth. Congress formally established this holiday in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, when some on the left tried to advance extremist policies unmoored from America’s founding principles – Defund the Police, for instance.  

To this day, there are those who seek to use Juneteenth to highlight Americans’ differences and disagreements. Yet every holiday is subject to abuse from a disgruntled few. Their actions shouldn’t prevent the rest of us from understanding the meaning and message of this uniquely American anniversary. 

Juneteenth should be considered extension of the Fourth of July – a holiday every red-blooded American holds dear. Where Independence Day marks the proclamation of our national commitment to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” Juneteenth marks the emancipation that made this founding promise more real than any other act in American history.  

It shows that we have an incredible capacity to self-correct, righting the worst wrongs in our society. It says that even those who’ve been hurt the most can help heal our nation, putting aside anger in favor of applying America’s timeless principles. 

The “grandmother of Juneteenth” is living proof. Opal Lee saw her house burned down by a racist mob on Juneteenth when she was 12 years old. No one would have blamed her for being angry, or even hating her country. But she didn’t take that road.  

She believed in America and wanted to celebrate the best of America. So, she devoted her life to making Juneteenth a federal holiday, recognizing that it proves our ability to unite and end injustices. Lee succeeded in her task. She’s now 96 and honorary chair of Heal America, which I co-chair. I’ve never met anyone who loves this country more. 

There is so much in this holiday for the right to appreciate. Juneteenth shows the power of our founding principles and the strength of the system our founders created. If we could overcome slavery, which many call America’s original sin, then we’re capable of tackling any challenge. We simply need to use the Constitution’s structure to advance the ideals of the Declaration of Independence. I can think of no more ringing endorsement of our national model. 

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By the same token, Juneteenth reminds us that we can move toward the cultural cohesion that conservatives crave. Without this holiday, many Black and brown Americans would feel forever estranged from our experiment in self-government.  

Juneteenth should be considered an extension of the Fourth of July – a holiday every red-blooded American holds dear. Where Independence Day marks the proclamation of our national commitment to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” Juneteenth marks the emancipation that made this founding promise more real than any other act in American history.  

With Juneteenth, we are invested in the nation’s success and empowered to contribute to America’s progress. It is E Pluribus Unum in action, ensuring that out of many, we can yet become one. 

Far from ignoring or attacking Juneteenth, Americans should embrace and celebrate it together. For that matter, we should protect it from the manipulation and politicization that people rightly fear. Juneteenth is a time to declare that America is not defined by racism, and that the American people are resolved to advance freedom, equality, and justice for all.  

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It’s a chance to remind ourselves, and each other, that America doesn’t need a new foundation. Just the opposite: We should build on the sturdy, principled foundation we already have.  

This is the heart of the conservative worldview and the essence of Juneteenth. This federal holiday is every bit as uniting as the Fourth of July, a fact worth realizing as Americans celebrate it for the third time. 

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