The Capitol Fourth celebration — the concert and TV show that began with a performance of the National Symphony on the west lawn of the Capitol in 1979 and has grown into the most-watched show on PBS — will have its usual mix this year of patriotic songs and music by pop superstars.
The national anthem will, as usual, open the gala and will be sung by soprano Renée Fleming. But that’s not the only anthem that will be sung.
Host Vanessa Williams will also sing the “Black National Anthem” during the show. Williams, the first black Miss America, will sing Lift Every Voice and Sing to honor the new holiday Juneteenth.
I have no problem honoring Juneteenth. Just like I have no problem honoring the Poles who celebrate Pulaski Day in Chicago or Italian Americans who celebrate Columbus Day in New York City, St. Patrick’s Day for the Irish, Cinco de Mayo for Mexicans, Ramadan for Muslims — the list goes on. Americans respect, honor, and cherish our spectacular diversity of heritages.
But the Irish wouldn’t dream of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day on Cinco de Mayo. Italians would never think of celebrating Columbus Day on any other day than the anniversary of Columbus’s landing in the New World.
But Juneteenth was on June 19 — more than two weeks ago. Why honor it now?
Honoring Juneteenth on Independence Day is unnecessarily provocative, not to mention just plain weird.
When Vanessa Williams hosts this year’s televised Capitol Fourth celebration, she will not only honor the nation’s traditional independence day, but also the country’s newly designated holiday — Juneteenth.
Williams, who was the first Black woman to be crowned Miss America, will sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which has served as the Black National Anthem.
“It’s in celebration of the wonderful opportunity that we now have to celebrate Juneteenth. So we are reflective of the times,” she told the Associated Press on Thursday while promoting this year’s show.
So we will have two national anthems to celebrate on the 4th. Maybe we could squeeze the Irish national anthem in there somewhere. Or why not the Mexican national anthem?
I know it’s not very hip to think that Independence Day should be the one day of the year we celebrate our unity as a nation. After all, our calendar is full of days for every ethnic group, every race, every religion under the sun. Can’t we shoehorn in one day where all of us can celebrate, united in the simple joy of being Americans?
Is it really too much to ask that there be one day every year set aside where we celebrate the nation, its founding, and its revolutionary principles? All of us, regardless of race, religion, color, or any of the other growing number of artificial differences that separate us, have to recognize the need for one day a year where we celebrate what unites us, not divides us.
Leave celebrations of Juneteenth for June 19. Let July 4th be a day for everyone to celebrate being an American.