Juneteenth: It’s not an ‘either/or’ with the Fourth of July

Today is Juneteenth, which commemorates the emancipation of the last remaining enslaved African Americans in the Confederacy. On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers landed at Galveston, Texas and declared the war had ended and the enslaved were free. (President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was delivered two and a half years earlier, but it had not been enforced in Texas prior to the Union regiment’s arrival.)

The articles I perused today on the holiday have drawn a clear line in the sand between celebrating Juneteenth or the Fourth of July, stating that the former represents freedom better than the latter.

But black Americans “don’t have to choose between Juneteenth and July 4th,” writes Kendall Qualls, president of TakeCharge MN, in the New York Post.

“…[W]ithout the Declaration of Independence, there would be no Juneteenth. And there would be no Juneteenth without the sacrifice of 350,000 white men of the Union Army from non-slave-holding states that died in the Civil War that led to the Emancipation Proclamation.

Using Juneteenth and the Fourth of July “to divide the nation by insisting that America has been broken by systemic racism” helps no one, continues Qualls.

I have a holistic view of America’s history — the good, bad and ugly. I am fully aware that after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, an entire century had to pass before we saw complete freedom for black Americans, including my parents. Today, however, there are millions who know little about the endless Americans — rich and poor; North and South — who helped newly freed slaves become productive citizens despite their racist detractors. People like Sears & Roebuck CEO Julius Rosenwald who worked with Booker T. Washington in the early 1900s to build 5,000 elementary schools throughout the southern states.  

The greatest irony of this increasing divide is how often we hear leaders from academia, the media and entertainment industry disparaging such donors as racists or white supremacists. And they do so while state lawmakers, government bureaucrats and teachers union officials construct ever-higher barriers preventing poor and minority kids from having access to successful private and charter schools.  

While some may argue that the sacrifices of the Civil War era and subsequentReconstruction are ancient history, I offer a more recent example of America at its finest. I’m speaking of the decades of funding from predominantly white Christian and Catholic foundations that have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into private and charter schools for the nation’s inner-city predominantly Black and Latino youth. As Carl Campanile recently wrote, “charter schools in the US are significantly outperforming their traditional-public-school peers across the nation — and by particularly large margins in New York City and other urban areas.”

“…[T]wo national anthems and two national holidays is not only wrong but dangerous,” concludes Qualls. “”…[L]et’s celebrate Juneteenth as long as we understand that it all started with July 4th.”

Listen to Kendall Qualls discuss celebrating both Juneteenth and July 4th here.