In the past year, there has been an increase in interest in making Juneteenth a national holiday. While it seems the increased national prominence is a result of the death of George Floyd and subsequent protests, this is not a new move. The earliest bill to recognize the holiday was introduced in the US House in 1996. This was over a decade after Texas recognized it as a state holiday. Given the date of June Nineteenth derives from celebrations in Galveston, Texas was the logical first state to recognize it. All seven states currently recognize it at some level.
I am all for making it a national holiday for several reasons. The least of the reasons is a “practical” one. Federal holidays seem clumped around the dead of winter much more than summer.
The main reason is more philosophical. Juneteenth represents a crucial point on the national journey of the United States. This can be seen in the alternate names Infogalatic lists for the holiday, Juneteenth Independence Day and Freedom Day. There is a direct line from the next holiday on the calendar, Independence Day, and Juneteenth. Juneteenth is symbolic of the incompleteness of what had begun in 1776 and the largest step to finish the work taken. Both those who think the work now largely done and those who think it is a work in progress recognize the ending of slavery as a key step. It would seem only those who believe lack of initial perfection taints everything since regardless of change reject Juneteenth as a day worth remembering when they learn of it.
I also support another new national holiday for the same reason, its place on both the American and the human journey, Tranquility Day, which would either be July 20th or July 21st and celebrate man walking on the Moon. It is, in my mind American’s greatest achievement. For those wondering why I don’t consider the ending of slavery the greatest achievement, I don’t consider it an achievement in the same way. Ending slavery is recognizing we were not living up to our ideals and our moral obligation and changing. It’s a valuable thing, but it is not the same kind of thing. In celebrating it, you aren’t celebrating how moral you became. You are celebrating that others are not free. You are celebrating the ending of the negative, enslavement.
In celebrating Tranquility Day we’d be celebrating the achievement of a dream as old as humanity. It is hard to find a culture without stories about what the Moon is and what is there. It might be a squeeze easier to find ones without stories of people who traveled there, but not much. Americans went there and found out what was there. That is a positive achievement of adding good to the world.
Of course, such discussions always result in a discussion of how we’d need to eliminate holidays to make room on the calendar. I’d like to recommend three to remove, all for the same reason. I think, as a matter of principle, President’s Day, Columbus Day, and Martin Luther King Day, should be eliminated.
The reason I would like to see all three removed is they celebrate specific men 1. My dislike of that has nothing to do with the four men involved. Each is remembered for a reason and despite revision of views on all four by different historians, the fact remains each made an important mark on the world.
What they are not is specific events in our collective story. Yes, each had a crucial role in the American journey and one is directly connected to events in the two holidays I wish to add. However, in a Republic, in a nation without nobility, we should not elevate Presidents in a reflection of the deification of dead Emperors in Rome2. We should recognize the sailors who sailed with Columbus. We should remember those attacked by police marching with Dr. King. For all my dedication to the smallest minority, the individual, I recognize national holidays should be about the collective citizens, past, present, and future. That is why I want to recognize Tranquility Day and not Neil Armstrong Day.
Going back to my practical reasoning, it doesn’t hurt that we’d be trading a January, a February, and an October holiday for a June one and a second July one.
We missed hitting a nice round day for Juneteenth six years ago and Tranquility two years ago. If we work at it, we could hit the 160th anniversary of the triggering event for Juneteenth, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the 53rd anniversary of Apollo 11 by getting them through Congress this year.
I think that would be a bill that could promote unity.
- President’s Day used to be two separate holidays for Lincoln and Washington. It is still legally named Washington’s Birthday
- Don’t get me started on the naming of aircraft carriers. They should be named after famous ships of the US Navy or famous battles of the US armed forces