Wednesday, July 04, 2007

July 4 is Independence Day in America, give or take a few weeks

In "Fourth of July is Independence Day," offers the following description and many informative links:

Independence Day honors the birthday of the United States of America and the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. It's a day of picnics and patriotic parades, a night of concerts and fireworks, and a reason to fly the American flag.

I celebrate July 4 much as many Americans do. In years past, I even sang with my school choir at Independence Day functions and marched with my high school marching band. More recently, my recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance has been broadcast by Whitney Radio stations WVIP-FM and WVOX-AM every July 4 since 2001.

However, a few weeks earlier, I also celebrate Juneteenth (also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day), the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. The holiday, first celebrated on June 19, 1865 in Galveston, Texas, is now officially observed in many states, including New York.

The first Independence Day and the first Juneteenth occurred almost a century apart (in 1776 and 1865, respectively). However, it is fitting that they are celebrated in close proximity today.

Bob Lebensold and I discussed on his talk radio show, Environmentally Sound, the fact that not all Americans were liberated when the Declaration of (America's) Independence (from Great Britain) was signed in 1776. Slavery was still going strong, and many of the founding fathers who drafted and signed the historic document (e.g., Thomas Jefferson and George Washington) were slaveholders.

The enslavement of African Americans in the United States did not end until almost 100 years later. Abraham Lincoln's issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, in year three of the Civil War, helped get the ball rolling. But January 1, 1863 was no independence day for black Americans. As the National Archives and Records Administration reports, the order did not immediately free a single slave, and was limited in many ways. The first Juneteenth was celebrated two and a half years later.

Of course, Juneteenth was just the beginning of a long struggle for African American Civil Rights. But doesn't the Asian adage say, "A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step"?
Today, all Americans are at liberty to celebrate both Independence Day and Juneteenth. And we should.

But put this on your grill and smoke it: it's too bad every American man and woman who is eligible to vote doesn't take the fraction of the time we spend partying to exercise, on Election Day, one of the key civil rights Americans associate with liberty and independence. What right is that? (Shame on you for asking!) The answer: suffrage. ###