On Saturday — Juneteenth — former President Barack Obama called on Americans to learn about a woman named Opal Lee, who has spent years advocating for federal recognition of the holiday, which commemorates the end of slavery. In recent days, President Joe Biden signed a bill into law that established Juneteenth as a federal holiday. The observance stems from an instance in 1865 when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger and the soldiers under his command brought news proclaiming the freeing of the slaves to Texas, which was one of the last outposts of slavery once the Civil War ended.
Alongside a link to a CNN article about Lee, former President Obama wrote as follows:
‘Now that Juneteenth is a federal holiday, take a minute to learn about Opal Lee—the woman who did more than anyone to make it happen. Let’s follow her lead and try to leave our grandkids a better world than the one we came up in.’
Now that Juneteenth is a federal holiday, take a minute to learn about Opal Lee—the woman who did more than anyone to make it happen. Let’s follow her lead and try to leave our grandkids a better world than the one we came up in. https://t.co/r2NhXQxd60
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) June 19, 2021
As Lee herself put it, Americans have “got all of these disparities that we’ve got to address and I mean all of them. While we’ve got some momentum I hope we can get some of it done. We can have one America if we try.” This vision of unity and progress for America certainly stands in stark contrast to the messages and actions of many Republicans — some of whom even voted against the establishment of Juneteenth as a federal holiday.
A full 14 House Republicans voted against recognizing the holiday, ranging from Rep. Paul Gosar (Ariz.) to Rep. Ronny Jackson (Texas). Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), another Republican who voted against federal recognition of Juneteenth, claimed that the official name included in the legislation — Juneteenth National Independence Day — “needlessly divides our nation on a matter that should instead bring us together by creating a separate Independence Day based on the color of one’s skin.”
It is stunning that Roy, a white man, would opt to act as though he knows better than the Black activists involved in the establishment of Juneteenth, which has colloquially been known as (among other things) Black Independence Day in the past. Although obviously they’re not in the forefront, who said that white people can’t celebrate Juneteenth too, anyway? Shouldn’t all Americans celebrate the end of slavery? Why is Roy so eager to proclaim that something that prioritizes the experiences of Black Americans “needlessly divides our nation”? It’s racism — at even the slightest hint of Black Americans having an observance putting their cultural and personal experiences at the center, Roy freaked out.