Two days ago, nobody really thought this would happen. Also, 7 other things worth your time.
At 3:30 pm Eastern today, President Biden is expected to sign a bill making June 19, Juneteenth National Independence Day, the 12th federal holiday.
I linked to a story about the surprise Senate passage of the bill this week in the “7 other things” section the other day. But I didn’t have time to do much more then, and I’d like to correct that now.
First, the background. In case you’re like me and grew up in the North, where Juneteenth was hardly mentioned until recent years, the day commemorates the arrival of Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger of the Union Army in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865, at the end of the Civil War.
Only then did people there learn that President Lincoln (who was assassinated two months earlier) had issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.
Yes, you read right: that’s a two-year gap.
A striking thing about Granger’s official message, to me anyway, is that it wasn’t exactly heartfelt or congratulatory:
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.
This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.
The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages.
They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
Maybe the first line or two aren’t that bad…but read down a bit and it’s basically:
Great, you’re free. But keep working for the exact same people who insisted they owned you, literally until minutes ago.
Don’t come to the military for help. Oh, and let’s just add a line that says if you’re prone to “idleness,” forget it; you’re on your own.
Perhaps, having just won a bloody civil war, I suppose the order might have threaded a needle—trying to enforce freedom in fact, while not giving the now-former slave owners (and their supporters) a rallying cry to immediately fight again. But…it wasn’t exactly a celebration of rights.
Also, Lincoln’s order—and thus Granger’s proclamation — only talked about banning slavery in the former Confederacy.
It took the 13th Amendment to ban slavery throughout the country under the Constitution. And the 14th and 15th Amendments—citizenship, equal protection, not denying the right to vote “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude”—weren’t enacted until 1866 and 1880.
But former slaves, and eventually their descendants, took hold of June 19 and made it their annual celebration.1
Currently 47 states and Washington, DC recognize the day, but most of them only did so in the last 20 years.
Now, I don’t mean to suggest that making a new holiday somehow rights centuries of wrong. And I’ve certainly seen some people saying that Congress is using it as cover to avoid tackling other, bigger issues about race.
Still, I’m also struck once again by how slowly things can move for a long time in our society—and then suddenly change very quickly. A single senator could have held Juneteenth up under Senate rules this week, and in fact Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin did exactly that the last time it was introduced.
But this time he went along, saying “it is clear that there is no appetite in Congress to further discuss the matter.” Then, the House approved the same bill by a vote of 415 to 14 on Wednesday.
As the National Museum of African American History & Culture, part of the Smithsonian, puts it:
Juneteenth marks our country’s second independence day. Although it has long celebrated in the African American community, this monumental event remains largely unknown to most Americans.
True enough; I must admit that I don’t think I had even heard of Juneteenth until I lived in DC as an adult. But now, it won’t be unknown much longer.
7 other things worth your time
French lawmakers voted to abolish domestic flights on routes than can be covered by train in under 2.5 hours, as the government seeks to lower carbon emissions even as the air travel industry reels from the global pandemic. This actually happened in April, but I only just saw it. Better late than never. (Reuters)
Royal Caribbean postponed the inaugural sailing of its cruise ship Odyssey of the Seas after eight vaccinated crew members tested positive for Covid-19, the company's CEO said. (CNN)
Fearful of Republicans regaining control of the Senate next year, progressive Democrats are ramping up their calls for Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer, 82, to step down from the bench to ensure that President Biden’s replacement could be confirmed while the party remains in control. (LA Times)
Hundreds of Southwest Airlines flights were delayed or canceled again on Wednesday. “The headaches for Southwest … began on Monday night, when a problem with a weather data supplier prevented the airline from safely flying planes.” The issue was resolved, but on Tuesday the airline suffered its own technological problems, resulting in half of its flights that day being delayed and many being canceled. (NYT, $)
Searing heat across the US Southwest and soaring demand for electricity to power air conditioners this week are prompting grid operators in Texas and California to warn consumers about energy conservation to avoid outages. (Reuters)
President Biden said he personally warned Russian President Vladimir Putin during Wednesday's summit that if jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny dies in prison, the consequences "would be devastating for Russia." (Axios)
A single word from soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo: (“¡Água!” or “Water!”) as he abruptly pushed aside two bottles of Coca-Cola at a press conference sent the company’s stock tumbling, resulting in the loss of $4 billion in market value in a matter of minutes. (Twitter/CBS News)