Opal Lee walked from Fort Worth, Texas, to D.C. for years, advocating for Juneteenth to become a national holiday. She would walk 2.5 miles each day, symbolizing the time it took for the last slaves in the U.S. – in Galveston, Texas — to be freed after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Now Ms. Lee, who is 94, can rest her feet.
Recognized as a holiday in 47 states, Juneteenth this week became the newest federal holiday following a unanimous vote in the Senate and a 415-14 vote in the House. President Biden signed the bill on Thursday, making it official. In 2020, I was at the White House when then-President Trump laid the groundwork for a national Juneteenth holiday, and I am so happy it has finally come to fruition.
Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when people held as slaves in Texas finally learned the abhorrent practice had ended more than two years previously with the Emancipation Proclamation. The proclamation freed “all persons held as slaves” in the states that had rebelled against the Union, and Texas was one of them.
Juneteenth needed national recognition because on that day, not only were the captives freed, but the captors were as well. A nation that allows one or more groups of human beings to be held as slaves is a broken land, every citizen impacted by this grotesque practice. Juneteenth marks the day we began to heal.
Was ours a perfect union from that day forward? Obviously not. Racism’s tentacles were long and deep-rooted. My family’s own history is an example of the evil nature of racial hatred, and we are far from alone. Ms. Lee’s family home was destroyed by a mob of White supremacists. Black Americans don’t have to look far to see racism playing out in our everyday lives. As one nation under God, we need to keep working at it. We need to fix the here and now so the future is better.
What we can’t do is fix the past. No amount of statue-tumbling can change the history of our nation or our world. Insisting that schools teach impressionable children about “critical race theory” or “systemic racism” is the best way to make sure we never take a step forward, any of us. Forward is where we should be headed.
These days we like to separate ourselves into groups and proudly proclaim our victimhood. Yes, Blacks were victims of racism, and many still are. Yes, Native Americans were treated horribly. Many immigrant groups that came to our shores faced discrimination. We cannot change that, but we can look at how far we’ve come. A Black president. A Native American Cabinet secretary. Congress made up of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists. This is progress, something we should celebrate.
By now everyone who knows me knows I believe there is only one race, the human race. That’s how we have to learn to see each other, as members of the same race, bound by the blood that courses through all of our veins. In this group, we also must see the unborn, whose lives are threatened by our government in ways they have never been before. Legislation currently in Congress would repeal every state and federal law aimed at protecting babies from abortion. I often say that no one is free until the babies in the womb are free.
I hope everyone in the country finds a reason to celebrate Juneteenth this year because it was a turning point for our nation. And let’s pray for a day in our not-too-distant future when babies in the womb can look forward to the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness offered to all Americans.
• Evangelist Alveda King is a pastoral associate of Priests for Life and leads its outreach Civil Rights for the Unborn. A niece of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., she has authored many books, including “King Rules” and “How Can the Dream Survive if We Murder the Children.” Connect with her at www.Facebook.com/CivilRightsForTheUnbornOfficial.
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