Celebrating a promise finally kept

One special observance is gaining importance across the United States and is well worth noting — and celebration by every American.

It is Juneteenth, to be observed today. It is a celebration of the end of slavery in the United States.

According to tradition, Juneteenth is observed on June 19 because it was on that date in 1865 that Union soldiers arriving in Galveston, Texas, at the end of the Civil War told African-American slaves there that they were free. No one knows with certainty how long the holiday has been celebrated.

Many Americans still don’t understand the importance of Juneteenth, and that’s a shame.

Ours is a nation based on the fundamental truth that all people are free. We view it as a God-given right.

But the United States, despite what was written in the Declaration of Independence, was not founded on the basis of liberty for all. Millions of African-Americans remained in slavery after this became a country.

That was a terrible, ugly stain on this nation — but, as historians understand, compromising with slave states when the Constitution was written in 1787 and ratified in 1788 probably was the only way the young republic could survive.

It was not until the Civil War that we as a people confronted the evil of slavery head-on. And, with President Abraham Lincoln leading the way through the Emancipation Proclamation, Americans finally abolished slavery through the 13th Amendment, in 1865.

For too long after that, bigotry remained common in our country. It still rears its ugly head too frequently, and we must continue to work toward the day when that will end forever.

But Juneteenth celebrates the time when we as a nation — we Americans — declared institutional discrimination had no place in our land. We as a people agreed that, at long last, it was time to live up to the words of the Declaration of Independence.

That is something worth recognizing.

Juneteenth is not an official national holiday, with days off from work and special activities common. But every state, with the exception of Hawaii, North Dakota and South Dakota, does something, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The date has been recognized in Pennsylvania since 2001, in Ohio since 2006 and in West Virginia since 2008, the research service noted.

It should be celebrated — as a day when, after far too long, a promise finally was kept.


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