Donald Trump should make Juneteenth a federal holiday

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(Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

The first Republican President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation executive order on January 1st, 1863 to free America’s slaves. Likely due to poor messaging and limited Union army presence in some areas of the Confederate South, many slaves- namely in rural Texas were not liberated on that date. This took almost two and a half years. On June 19th 1865, the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the Civil war had ended and that the now formerly enslaved were free. He read the following that began with “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights.” While many former slaves had nowhere to go, it was a celebratory day, as it was their first grasp of freedom. The celebration of June 19th was named “Juneteenth” and grew in future generations with more participation from descendants. Many black Americans celebrate being granted their G-d given freedoms with education, prayer service, sports and barbecues. It is now a state holiday or special day of observance in Texas and 46 other states.

Celebration of and education on Juneteenth has unfortunately mainly been relegated to the black American community although Juneteenth celebrations have been growing in recent years. Ideally, it would be a holiday that all Americans would be educated about and have the opportunity to partake in celebration of but specifically, Republicans should celebrate Juneteenth. The Republican Party started as an anti-slavery party, and the first Republican president was responsible for freeing America’s slaves and then reuniting the country. The Republican Party celebrates liberty and stands for G-d given rights and Juneteenth is just that. 

It should not be lost on us that this Juneteenth is coming at a time of great racial tension. After the unjust killing of George Floyd by a police officer, mass protests and riots broke out. While they were quickly co-opted by radical Black Lives Matter group and Antifa they reflected some prevalent sentiments in the black community that their American dream has not been fully actualized. Many black Americans see George Floyd and harken back to a time where government and police officers were deployed to strip them of their rights-not protect them. That thankfully no longer happens for the most part. There are abuses in policing and individual racists and we have a moral obligation to try to eliminate those. As most people recognized that the killing of George Floyd was unjust, this could have been a time of national unity where we came together to combat police brutality where it occurs. 

Instead, we seem to be more divided than ever. What started as a protest based on police brutality has morphed into a movement that proclaims that America is a fundamentally racist and evil place. This is unequivocally incorrect; America is the greatest country on earth. America is the only country on earth founded upon the concept that we the people are made in the image of G-d  and that means we are bestowed with inalienable rights and we are always striving towards that. Most Americans recognize this while also recognizing that we are imperfect and black Americans have been horribly mistreated and want to right these wrongs.

One way we ought to acknowledge and celebrate black Americans is for President Trump to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. It would be in the tradition of Republicans who stand for civil rights of black Americans. From a party that was founded on abolition, to the party that the first 21 black congress members and 3 black senators belonged, to the party of the President that sent in the National Guard to ensure integration in education and today stands for school vouchers and charter schools to ensure that children of all backgrounds have access to a good education. Black Americans are an integral part of the United States. While we can acknowledge that having President Trump recognize Juneteenth as a federal holiday will not fix everything, it would be a well-timed, positive step-in healing the pain being felt now in our nation’s black American communities.


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Aedan O'Connor


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