Photo: public domain
For all of his verbal flubs and falling down, President Joe Biden may have achieved the greatest victory of his term by signing the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law in 2021. By unanimous consent in the Senate and a virtual blowout in the House, Biden gets the credit for being the president that brought racial justice through the observance of the eleventh American federal holiday. But Juneteenth, a holiday which was observed as a state-recognized ‘paid’ day off for government staff as far back as 1939, has been used as a campaigning piece and advocacy target for decades. Why now and why Biden?
The facts are clear, recognizing a federal holiday isn’t as simple as a vote in Congress. It took ninety-four years for Congress to recognize the need for our first four federal holidays which included Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s Day. In the late 1800’s America added Labor Day and Washington’s birthday to the list of federally recognized holidays. We added MLK’s birthday to the list as well as Memorial and Columbus Day recognitions in our modern era. Another two dozen presidential proclamations followed to bring about special recognition to causes, such as World AIDS Day recognized on December first, Grandparents Day and Patriot Day both celebrated in September, and the National Day of Prayer in May.
As far as Juneteenth, the holiday marking the end of slavery in America, is concerned, Opal Lee, now 96, dubbed the “grandmother of the movement (to federalize the Juneteenth holiday)” was captured in a dubious photo op that will likely grace the walls of the African American museum in Washington, DC. in our near future. But it is just as much an honor to Opal Lee’s tiresome work as it is to Republican General Gordan Granger, who first proclaimed the freedom to enslaved Texans on June 19, 1865, two and a half years after Republican Abraham Lincoln penned Proclamation 95, securing freedom for 3.5 million blacks by executive order. The 37th Congress, which enjoyed a Republican majority in both the house and senate, gave African Americans the legal right to pursue the American dream beyond slavery, resulting in the formation of not only the party of freedom, but of the nation’s newest citizens. How ironic it is that President Biden would be the one to go down in history for recognizing these majestic events from the Oval office.
As Senator, Biden’s resume reads like one of Heimler’s hit list for black America. The longest serving Senator in America’s history as of 2023, and a lifelong politician, Biden has been part of the problem plaguing marginalized Americans through a racist rhetoric echoed in DC through the 1994 crime bill and other measures. Biden goes on record to be the Senate’s strongest opponent to race-integration in schools through federally funded busing. Biden secured “a cold day in hell,” his own quote after an independent counsel investigated and impeached then President Clinton because of the Whitewater controversy, by appointing a special counsel to investigate former President Trump. Biden’s own party attempts to disassociate themselves from his false or exaggerated claims that cause constant embarrassment for the offices he has held. Obama’s anecdotal description of his former Vice President as ‘garrulous and patronizing’ is indicative of post-Jim Crow democrats at the federal level who seem to rely on strategic marketing, such as a Juneteenth photo op, rather than strategic policies that serve American interests.
Campaign handlers for Biden, and others like him, count on the nature of the media to drive and distract public opinion away from the core issues that create perpetual bondage for impoverished and under-represented Americans. That is likely why two years into an arguably failed presidency, Biden delivers symbolic relief to black America by becoming a hero of Juneteenth. The U.S. government being “slow to embrace” the Juneteenth holiday, according to The Associated Press, was remedied when Biden signed Public Law 17. With all of the failures of this administration, from Afghanistan to Ukraine, and 2022’s Inflation Reduction Act to the numerous repeals that impacted our economy and national security, Juneteenth provides yet another distraction flooding the news cycle with the “good deeds” and long overdue decisions that make great press.
Even though Juneteenth has been a long celebrated memorial in the hearts of many black Americans, especially the non-millennial patriots who have seen our nation grow in civility and opportunity only to revert in this current time to the roles of offender and offended, our federal government did not appear to hold the same endearments about the ending of slavery. This is the same kind of fatal marketing error that gave Kennedy the edge over Nixon in the closest presidential election in the 20th century, when the then Senator helped get Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King out of jail. If marketing truly does hold such a prominent place in politics, why don’t conservatives seem to know it? The contemptible struggle which America once again finds herself in is unpitied by the rest of the world, many of whom mock and capitalize on our internal divide. As for me and my house, we will eat barbeque as we always have on Juneteenth, knowing that liberty is not secured in one generation nor is its story told in a single photo op, but is rather the result of countless days of rallying behind the freedom that is ours, represented in the American flag.
The Associated Press. “The story behind Juneteenth and how it became a federal holiday.” ABC News, 7 June 2023, https://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/story-juneteenth-federal-holiday-99908128. Accessed 25 June 2023.
“Fed Facts: What does it take to create a federal holiday?” FRBservices.org, 15 November 2021, https://www.frbservices.org/news/fed360/issues/111521/fed-facts-federal-holiday. Accessed 25 June 2023.
Kindelan, Katie. “Meet Opal Lee, the 'grandmother of the movement' to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.” ABC News, 19 June 2023, https://abcnews.go.com/GMA/News/meet-opal-lee-grandmother-movement-make-juneteenth-federal/story?id=78356537. Accessed 25 June 2023.
Martin, Jonathan. “On King Holiday, Democrats Convey Hope, Remorse and Invective Against Trump (Published 2019).” The New York Times, 21 January 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/21/us/politics/biden-crime-bill-regrets.html. Accessed 25 June 2023.
Prescott, Virginia, and Sean Powers. “Georgia Today: How MLK's Prison Sentence Landed JFK In The White House.” Georgia Public Broadcasting, 24 February 2021, https://www.gpb.org/news/2021/02/24/georgia-today-how-mlks-prison-sentence-landed-jfk-in-the-white-house. Accessed 26 June 2023.