The effort to have June 19 declared a federal holiday is gaining traction as dozens of companies and several U.S. cities have made the date a paid holiday.
But should Juneteenth be made a national holiday?
The date marks the unofficial end of slavery in the United States. On that date in 1865, news of Robert E. Lee’s surrender in Virginia in April finally reached Galveston, Texas. Former slaves chose that date to celebrate their freedom, even though the 13th Amendment to the Constitution legally ending slavery wasn’t ratified until December 6, 1865.
The date has taken on added significance this year because of the riots and demonstrations over George Floyd’s death, which has caused a stampede by politicians and businesses to get on the Juneteenth holiday bandwagon.
“Juneteenth is not just a date. Juneteenth is a spirit. Juneteenth is a mentality,” said Steve Williams, president of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation.
July Fourth is widely known as Independence Day, though slavery remained in the United States for at least 88 years after the Declaration of Independence announced “all men are created equal.” Thus, many black Americans recognize Juneteenth as Independence Day because, as activist Fannie Lou Hamer once said, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”
That’s one way to look at Independence Day. Another is that it didn’t declare the people free, it made the colonies free from the rule of England.
Regardless, the bandwagon is rolling and everyone is jumping on to show how tolerant they are.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he will sign an executive order Wednesday to make Juneteenth a holiday for New York State employees and will propose legislation to commemorate the day as an official state holiday next year.
During his daily press conference, Cuomo recognized that Friday, June 19 is Juneteenth, the day “commemorating the emancipation of slavery in the United States.”
Self-consciously liberal social media companies are leading the way with Google, Spotify, and Twitter declaring Juneteenth a paid holiday, as well as other, more established companies like JP Morgan and Mastercard. In the atmosphere of the time, no company wants to be seen dragging their heels when it comes to giving activists an excuse.
But private companies making Juneteenth a holiday is one thing. Making it a national holiday is quite another. It costs the federal government $500 million to give a paid day off to its employees. For private employers, the cost is many times that. With 10 federal holidays already on the books, do we really need another one? This is especially true with activists pushing to make Election Day a national holiday.
The cost to businesses will be passed on to their customers while no one cares if the federal government spends half a billion dollars on another day off. I say, why not? Let’s party! In a few years, Juneteenth will become just another excuse for a cookout and advertisers will cash in, while the rest of us fall asleep on the couch watching the ballgame and enjoying the three-day weekend.