Cause for celebration

Next Wednesday our offices will be closed.  While a day off is often a cause for celebration, June 19th has much more significant importance: Juneteenth.

Juneteenth, observed every year on June 19th, commemorates the pivotal moment when Union soldiers, led by General Gordon Granger, arrived in Galveston, Texas, in 1865, to proclaim the end of slavery in the state.  This proclamation, arriving over two years after the Emancipation Proclamation and following the end of the Civil War, symbolized not only the legal end of slavery but also the emancipation of African Americans within the region. It marked a profound juncture—a moment of liberation, hope, and the dawn of a new era for countless individuals who had long endured the shackles of bondage.

But I think Juneteenth also represents the reconciliation of a conflict created by our founding fathers – particularly the irreconcilable difference between the aspirational Declaration of Independence and an ugly “compromise” in our Constitution.

When declaring our independence from England (ratified on July 4th, 1776), the signers proudly proclaimed:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain unalienable rights, the among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

This was a bold statement of principle and belief and was in marked contrast to the English and European systems of that day.  (Obviously, today we would change “men” to “people”)

However, this powerful declaration was undermined by the “3/5ths compromise” in Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3 of the Constitution (ratified on June 21, 1788).  Instead of “all men created equal,” the U.S. government counted those “bound to service” (slaves) as “three-fifths of all other persons” for purposes of apportioning taxes and representation.

Thankfully, the Emancipation Proclamation ultimately led to the passing of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery (ratified on December 6th, 1865.)  I recommend the 2012 movie “Lincoln” for a riveting (at least for me) portrayal of the political fight to ratify the 13th Amendment.

So, the celebration of Juneteenth has deep and profound meaning for our neighbors whose ancestors were enslaved in our country.  But it also represents our nation working to live up to those inspirational words in our Declaration of Independence!

Local NPR station, KNKX, has compiled a list of Juneteenth celebrations and events that you and your family and friends can enjoy throughout the Puget Sound area.

Thanks for reading,