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Published Articles by Doris Weatherford

Juneteenth

The quick and nearly unanimous passage of a bill to create Juneteenth as a new federal holiday is an amazing marker of the real change voters made last November.  We pushed out an archaic administration that was deep into denial and replaced it with a realistic one that acknowledges historical facts.  As you doubtless now know – but may not have known until recently – Juneteenth recognizes the time that slaves near Galveston, Texas, became aware that they were free. 

 

The Civil War had ended two months earlier, and the Emancipation Proclamation that applied to conquered Confederate territory was more than two years prior to that, but no one proclaimed freedom to these isolated folks until Union troops under General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston on June 19, 1865.  He headed US Army forces in Texas, and his handwritten proclamation, General Order Number 3, is preserved at the National Archives.  Although little noted until recent years, Juneteenth is no myth.

 

As is appropriate, the congressional bill primarily was sponsored by Texans, who have recognized this history for several decades.  In the House, Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee, an African American of Houston, has pushed longest and hardest, but eventually she was joined by powerful Texas Senator John Cornyn, a white man and a Republican.  Not surprisingly, her comments about the bipartisan passage were much more joyful than his, but he grudgingly came along – and other Republican senators followed. 

 

They realized that what Representative Lee said is true – and truly wondrous.  "What I see here today," she declared, "is racial divide crumbling, being crushed, under a momentous vote."  Yet three Texas Republicans in the House, all of them white men, voted negatively.  Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin led opposition in the upper chamber, but seeing that he would lose the vote, he merely groused about the cost of a paid federal holiday and allowed a bipartisan passage.  Mitchell McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, also is to be credited for keeping his mouth shut and permitting this recognition of history.

 

OTHER JUNE HOLIDAYS

 

Because June 19 coincided with Father's Day this year, a lot of media attention went to black dads.  Father's Day, a non-federal holiday that occurs on the third Sunday in June, often will be the same as Juneteenth in the future, and it will be interesting to see the result.  This recognition of dads was pushed more than a century ago by Sonora Smart Dodd, a resident of Spokane who wanted to acknowledge her father and others like him. 

 

William Jackson Smart was a resident of Jenny Lind, Arkansas, in the northwest part of the state where many people were Unionists; after fighting for the Union in Civil War, he fathered six children and brought them up alone when his wife died delivering the last.  Sonora was the eldest, and Protestant churches in Spokane took up her wish in 1910.  National attention soon followed, equalizing Father's Day with Mother's Day. 

 

Mother's Day, the second Sunday in May, had begun just a few years earlier in 1907.  It was the brainchild of Philadelphian Anna Jarvis, and within four years, every state in the nation observed it.  Unlike today, when merchants dominate these holidays with advertising for gifts and restaurants, churches were the chief scene when I was a child.  I remember that in some, women wore red roses if their mother still was alive, and white if she had died.  I'm sure that almost all of these roses came from backyard bounty in May, not from florists.  Today, Mother's Day is by far the industry's biggest seller -- and already prior to her 1948 death, Jarvis bemoaned the growing commercialization.

 

Flag Day, on the other hand, seems to have largely disappeared.  It, too, was created in the sentimental era prior to World War I.  Democratic President Woodrow Wilson, a professional historian, established June 14 to recognize the day in 1776 when Congress authorized the first US flag.  (And no, in all probability Betsy Ross did not sew it; I've written about that before and won't bore you again.)  Few people followed up on Wilson's proclamation, though, and it was not until the anti-communist era of the 1950s that Flag Day was a fairly big deal. 

 

That it hasn't last well probably is because of its close proximity to July 4th, but I remember our Lutheran pastor doing a presentation on Flag Day during Vacation Bible School.  Rev. Preus, a rather ring-wing Republican of German descent, pointed to church altar with its American and Christian flags and asked which was more important.  He was shocked when a boy (old enough to know better) replied the American.

 

ANOTHER HOLIDAY?

 

The point I want to make, though, is that while African Americans now deservedly have two federal holidays with both Juneteenth and Martin Luther King's birthday, we women still have nothing to commemorate our struggle for civil rights.  For decades, some of us have promoted August 26, the day in 1920 that the Nineteenth Amendment was added to the Constitution, assuring women in every state of our right to vote. 

 

You may recall that last August was its centennial, but with COVID, many celebrations were cancelled.  Worse, someone in the Trump administration soon took the centennial stamp that had been issued off of the post office's website.  The Treasury Department also had promised to replace the image of Andrew Jackson on the twenty-dollar bill with that of Harriet Tubman; this would have been a recognition of both women and African Americans, but that happen, either.  No woman yet has been depicted on American money – except for the romantically vague Lady Liberty. 

 

The Biden administration should look into both of these insults, and Congress should seriously consider making August 26 a national holiday.  Some feminists resisted that date in the past because school is not in session, but more and more, fall semesters begin in August -- and national educational life does not need to revolve around schools.  There is indeed a greater need to educate the general public, regardless of age, on the history of women's rights.

 

So the calendar of official holidays as of now is:

January – New Years

January – Martin Luther King's birthday

February – Presidents' Day

May – Memorial Day (originally dedicated to the Civil War)

June – Juneteenth

July – Independence Day

September – Labor Day

October – Columbus Day (and fodder for another column)

November – Veterans Day (originally commemorating World War I)

November – Thanksgiving

December – Christmas

 

Thus March, April, and August are the only months without an official holiday.  March has St. Patrick's Day, and either spring month can have Easter.  It is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox (try that for paganism!), but the federal government does not acknowledge Easter, although many public school schedules do. 

 

This leaves August with nil.  It's time to celebrate the 26th!

 

doris@dweatherford.com

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