Beth Ann Rosica: Juneteenth represents what’s best about our country

The institution of slavery and the war to end it is unarguably the worst period in our country’s history. Slavery was evil, morally reprehensible, yet it persisted well after our nation’s birth. It took the bloodiest war in our history to finally abolish slavery.

And that is why Juneteenth represents the best of American ideals. Our nation is not perfect, nor will it ever be; however, when faced with unjust laws and practices, our constitution provides a path for remedy and our citizenry stands up and speaks out.

Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the defeated Confederate States as ordered by Abraham Lincoln in the Emancipation Proclamation “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” 

Even though the proclamation was signed on January 1, 1863, many slaves in the deep south were not actually free until 1865. Slavery was not fully abolished in all states until December 1865 with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment.

Juneteenth is a reference to June 19, 1865, when Union troops arrived in western Texas and announced that more than 250,000 enslaved black people in the state were free. The newly freed citizens named the day, Juneteenth. For many African-Americans, Juneteenth is at least equally if not more important than the 4th of July as their ancestors were not true citizens until emancipation.

While the reasons for the Civil War were complex, the issue of slavery was a major factor. It divided the North and the South, eventually leading to some Southern states seceding from the Union. The Civil War was the deadliest war in our nation’s history, where more than 600,000 Americans lost their lives — that is more than the American deaths in both World Wars combined.

Yet, in the end, the morally right and just principle won, and slavery was abolished.

The win came at a great loss for both individuals and our nation, but our country showed its true colors and ultimately prevailed by ending slavery.

People can argue that it took too long to abolish slavery or that too many lives were lost in the process, and they are not wrong. Slavery should have been ended sooner. It existed in European countries dating back to the Greeks and continued until the mid 1800’s. It took the United States 89 years to eradicate slavery.

And while our history would be less tainted had we ended slavery at the time of our country’s birth, it is important to recognize and celebrate the fact that ultimately freedom prevailed. 

Without the constitution and its remedies, slavery in its many forms may never have ended or lasted even longer. There are currently people across the world still enslaved today.

To celebrate Juneteenth is to celebrate the slaves who continued to hope during their darkest hours and those who fought mightily to overcome and end bondage.

One such hero is Frederick Douglass, a slave who escaped to the North to become a free man. “I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”

Douglass — who a college professor of mine suggested that we remember how to spell his last name with two s’s because he was a “badass” — had the good fortune of learning to read and write as a slave before he successfully escaped to the North.

Once there, he made it his mission to advocate for the end slavery to grant freedom to all.

In one of his landmark speeches at the annual Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society meeting held in April 1865, Douglass spoke eloquently and passionately.

Entitled What the Black Man Wants, Douglass detailed his position. “What I ask for the Negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice.”

He further elaborated that black people wanted freedom and to be left alone. “Everybody has asked the question, and they learned to ask it early of the abolitionists, ‘What shall we do with the Negro?’ I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us.”

The fact that it took our great nation 89 years to grant freedom to slaves likely provided little solace for those enslaved or those who lost their life fighting for it. Yet, the descendants of both slaves and soldiers — and all Americans — have benefited greatly from their courage, conviction, and hope.

As Douglass said, “without a struggle, there can be no progress.”

The struggle is a great American tradition and ideal, and Juneteenth represents the best and worst of that tradition.

Our country today remains imperfect, but our history and constitution give us hope to strive for a “more perfect union.” 

This year on Juneteenth, let’s celebrate all those known and unknown heroes who spoke out about the evils of slavery and those who fought and lost their lives to end it. And let’s celebrate that our nation is not perfect, but it is more perfect than any other country in the world.

Beth Ann Rosica resides in West Chester, has a Ph.D. in Education, and has dedicated her career to advocating on behalf of at-risk children and families. She covers education issues for Broad + Liberty. Contact her at barosica@broadandliberty.com.

One thought on “Beth Ann Rosica: Juneteenth represents what’s best about our country”

  1. Dr. Rosica,
    You wrote a careful and technically accurate article. Indeed, slavery was not fully abolished in all states until December 1865. June 1865 was hardly a moment in the United States that every human was no longer a slave.
    Every single U.S. Federal Holiday is invented: Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day, Christmas Day (especially), Independence Day, New Years Day, Columbus Day, Washington’s and MLK’s Birthdays (sort of), and Juneteenth.
    Juneteenth perfectly captures our current culture. The name itself panders to a specific political subculture – one that encompasses ways of talking, to attitudes regarding education, violence, perceived victimhood, and weak family responsibilities.
    Christmas Day, Columbus Day, and Juneteenth are specific federal holidays that divide U.S. citizens rather than unite us. Santa Claus is totally made up – so who cares? I do think Federal holidays in the U.S. should not divide the people by their immutable characteristics. My great grandparents on both sides immigrated to the United States. We do not have a Federal Holiday that celebrates immigration – and that is shameful.

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