As a member of the Grand Trees of Chatham (GTOC) Board of Directors, I am the creator of the annual Naturally Chatham photo calendar, a fund raiser for GTOC highlighting the natural beauty and diversity of Chatham County’s natural amenities. I just picked up the draft copy of next year’s calendar from the printer to examine it for any omissions or changes. And sure enough, today as I gazed at the open space for the date of June 19, I saw that I had failed to include Juneteenth as a special date to be acknowledged in our calendar. While that error will be corrected in the final printing, it does not change the fact that the significance of the date slipped off my radar screen in the first place. In looking at the month of July, I see the term Independence Day occupying it’s usual spot on the 4th. And so I find myself thinking, “How White American of me it was to omit Juneteenth from our calendar.”

And then in the next moment I imagine a host of my fellow White Americans saying to me, “Whoa, take it easy bro; don’t be so hard on yourself. No need to beat up on yourself. Don’t fall into the guilt trap that black and brown and red and even many white folks are setting for you. Don’t let them make you feel uncomfortable about stuff from the past that you had nothing to do with. Don’t get bamboozled by this “critical race theory” and “1619 Project” crap that distorts true American history by vilifying slavery only to promote divisiveness and hatred of one another. Just stand up to this “BS” as a true patriotic American and let’s make sure our kids are taught the real history of America. Let’s work and pray to make America great again.

I am reminded on this Juneteenth 2024 that for so many of my fellow Americans working and praying to make America great again means

  • undermining public education and manipulating the story of America to fit a white supremacist, “anti-woke” ideology that predates Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation
  • gerrymandering voting districts and using whatever means possible to suppress non white voters in order to make the voices of people of color irrelevant
  • promulgating an end-justifies-the-means ethic to justify racism, bigotry, white Christian nationalism, homophobia, misogyny, gun violence, anti-abortion laws, climate injustice and the list goes on and on.

I am reminded on this Juneteenth 2024 that it took two and a half years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation for 250,000 enslaved persons on the western frontier in Texas to finally learn that the law off the land had declared them free beings. I am also reminded just how short that freedom “honeymoon” was and how quickly after Union troops left the South that the degradation and violence of the Jim Crow era took hold.

Therefore, with a sense of remorse at leaving Juneteenth off the calendar and the knowledge of the ‘one step forward and two steps back’ syndrome that we find our self in as Americans, I was pleased to come across a White House Proclamation on Juneteenth Day of Observance, 2024 to help lift my spirits. It reminded me that for now at least we have an administration on the federal level that truly seeks to honor America’s Second Independence Day by “working to ensure we continue to deliver on that idea — creating a country that truly stands for freedom, justice, dignity, and opportunity for all.”

I leave you with the concluding paragraphs of the Proclamation, and invite you to read it in its entirety at this LINK.

On Juneteenth, may we celebrate the essence of freedom that galvanized the country, the progress we have made in our Nation, and all that is possible when we march forward together. May we all recommit to redeeming the very soul of America — choosing love over hate, unity over division, and progress over retreat.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 19, 2024, as Juneteenth Day of Observance. I call upon the people of the United States to acknowledge and condemn the history of slavery in our Nation and recognize how the impact of America’s original sin remains. I call on every American to celebrate Juneteenth and recommit to working together to eradicate systemic racism and inequity in our society wherever they find it.”

With summer just around the corner and July 4 soon upon us, let us not forget the significance of Juneteenth as a critical part of the ongoing story of America’s challenge to grow into the ideals on which the United States was founded as stated in the Declaration of Independence.